Wool Products Labeling Act: Definition & Main Requirement

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The textile industry has always been incredibly important in American society, but it wasn't always regulated. In this lesson, we'll look at the Wool Products Labeling Act and see how this changed the way that American textile manufacturers did business.

The Wool Products Labeling Act

Buyer beware. The age-old wisdom of caveat emptor is one that most of us are familiar with, and it's actually played an important role in our history.

The US lives in a free market society, where the government is meant to regulate business as little as possible. Over time, however, there have been instances where the government took a stance. One of the first times that the American government ever introduced legislation to regulate the ever-important textile industry was in 1939, with the passing of the Wool Products Labeling Act.

The law does exactly what the name implies; it requires wool manufacturers to label their products based on the materials they used. It may not seem like a big deal now, but it was actually a pretty big moment in the history of government/business relations in the USA, and one with a range of punishments. Manufacturers beware.

Wool has long been a major global textile
wool

History

To really appreciate what the Wool Products Labeling Act does, we need to take a quick trip back to the late 19th century. America was in the full swing of its second industrial revolution, businesses boomed, and an incredibly competitive economic climate defined commerce. At the same time, government regulation of the market was practically non-existent. As a result, many companies developed tricky ways to stay ahead.

One industry racked by this experience was textiles. Americans needed to buy fabrics, and industrial titans began producing them on an industrial scale. To save money, many would use new cheaper materials and pass them off as higher-quality ones. In fact, by the time the Wool Products Labeling Act was passed, an estimated 50% of wool products were actually mostly made of disguised cotton or rayon.

By the early 20th century, wool was being produced, imported and exported on industrial scales
wool on show

As the 20th century rolled around, people became more and more concerned with the dominance of unregulated industries. Around the same time that the first anti-monopoly laws were enforced, Congress began its first attempts to regulate the quality of the most important products in people's lives, things like meat, dairy, and textiles. The first wool regulation act was introduced way back in 1902.

It would take the government a while to really embrace this more active role in the economy (more active by American standards, at least), but the Wool Products Labeling Act was finally passed in 1939. It was the first major law regulating a textile product with the express aim of protecting consumers from fraudulent goods.

It's important to note that the Act didn't outlaw the use of cotton or rayon, and didn't even ban the use of these products to create reworked or imitation wool. All it did was create a system whereby consumers could be informed about the products they were buying.

Elements of the Act

Definitions

Although passed in 1939, the Wool Products Labeling Act was updated as time when by, most recently in 2014 when it was adjusted to meet international standards of wool regulation. Now, in the legal world the exact wording and definition of terms is very important, so the first thing the Wool Products Labeling Act actually does is to legally define wool itself.

According to the Act, wool is defined as ''fiber from the fleece of the sheep or lamb or hair of the Angora or Cashmere goat (and may include the so-called specialty fibers from the hair of the camel, alpaca, llama, and vicuna) which has never been reclaimed from any woven or felted wool product''. That's wool.

A wool product, therefore, is defined as any product that contains or claims to contain wool or recycled wool, wool that was finely re-spun into a fibrous state after already being processed. By that same logic, specific wool products like cashmere also have their own strict definitions.

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