In the fall of 1969, somewhere in the southwestern United States, a seven-year-old boy was riding his bicycle down a quiet city street when a male stranger dragged him into a car and drove off. About an hour and a half later, however, the boy escaped. Police struggled to find the kidnapper because they couldn’t identify the make of his vehicle—all they had were the boy’s rather disjointed descriptions: bigger than a Volkswagen yet smaller than a Mercedes, black upholstery patterned with small x’s, a “sort of rectangle with a round thing on it” under the vent window. After weeks of searching, the boy’s mother tried a longshot: She mailed a letter, along with sketches of the car drawn by the boy, to the monthly magazine Consumer Reports. An answer soon came back: Toyota Corona, likely sold between April 1968 and April 1969. Four days later, authorities arrested the culprit.
This story, reported by the United Press International newswire in February 1970, and others like it, have helped establish the expertise and authority behind Consumer Reports, which reviews products ranging from automobiles to showerheads to credit cards. At the organization’s research center in Yonkers, New York, technicians evaluate the efficiency of washing machines by loading them with a mixture of clean clothing and strips of fabric sullied by coffee and pig’s blood. Scientists strike door locks with sledgehammers and force vacuum cleaners to suck up heaps of Maine Coon hair. More than 120 employees, with an annual testing budget of approximately $25 million, evaluate some 3,000 products a year. The results of these impartial studies are then gathered, examined, and published, ad-free, in Consumer Reports. Its mission: Equip consumers with the “knowledge they need to make better and more informed choices.”