Four Way Test

History of the Rotary 4-Way Test

There are several ways to describe what Rotary is all about. One is that slogan that we use, “Service Above Self” “He Profits Most Who Serves Best”. That is certainly a high and noble ideal that has lifted many a man or woman out of themselves and set their vision on the heights. Today, I would like to discuss the story of another ideal of Rotary.
Around the world it is known as “The Four Way Test.” It is one of the most famous statements of our Century. Like most things worthwhile, it came into existence because there was a man. You know great things are normally not put together by a committee. You’ve all heard that old chestnut that “a camel is a horse put together by a committee.”Most things in this world that are of great value have been done because there was a person. Great things are done by human beings who are committed to a cause.

Two hundred years ago, America was struggling to give an expression to its concept of freedom. There was a man–Thomas Jefferson–and there was the Declaration of Independence. The young nation was struggling to get started and needed a leader who could bring unity and inspire confidence.

There was a man–George Washington–First in War, First In Peace, and First in the Heart of His Countryman. And there was that fateful day when the nation would be tested to see if it could stand, and there was a man. Abraham Lincoln–the greatest leader undoubtedly that the American nation has ever known. Now obviously this list could go on and on, but today I want to tell you the story of The Four Way Test. There was a man–Herbert J. Taylor–a man of action, a man of faith, a man of high moral principle. Born in Pickford, Michigan one hundred years ago in 1893, he married Gloria Faubert in Chicago in 1919 and the couple moved to Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma where Herb went to work for the Sinclair Oil Company. After a year, he resigned from Sinclair and went into Insurance, Real Estate, and Oil Lease Brokerage. He was a mover, a doer, a consummate salesman, a leader of men.

With a series of prosperous years behind him, Herb and Gloria returned to Chicago in 1925 where Herb began a swift rise within the old Jewel Tea Company. In line for the presidency of Jewel, in 1932 he was asked to help revive the near-bankrupt Club Aluminum Company, and responding to the challenge, decided to cast his lot with this troubled firm.

Looking for a way to resuscitate (resesitate) the company caught in the quicksand of the great depression, Herb Taylor prayed–for he was a deeply religious man, for a short measuring stick of ethics, for the people at Club Aluminum to use. A member of the Rotary Club of Westwood Village in Los Angeles, Don Parsons, was an associate of Herb Taylor at the time that Herb put together what ultimately became The Four Way Test. Don Parsons actually designed the first plaques of the test to be put on the desks of businessmen and women.

Herb Taylor had a little black book that he carried with him in which he jotted down things that he wanted to remember. As he thought about an ethical measuring stick for his company, he first wrote out a statement of about a hundred words and decided, wisely I think, that that was too long. He continued to work and reduced it down to seven. You see, The Four Way Test was once the Seven Way Test. And that was still too long. And finally, he reduced it down to the four searching questions which comprise the test today.

Herb Taylor stated that he knew people–too many of them–would not take seriously the Bible and its teachings–especially the Golden Rule. And so he committed it to principle to what we call The Four Way Test. Once the four questions were formed, Herb Taylor checked it out with his four department heads. One was a Roman Catholic, the second a Christian Scientist, the third an Orthodox Jew, and the fourth a Presbyterian. They all agreed that the test not only coincided with their religious beliefs, but provided a superb guide for personal and business life.
There was a man–Herbert J. Taylor–and there was The Four Way Test.

  • Is it the TRUTH?
  • Is it FAIR to all Concerned?
  • Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Simply written, of the twenty four words, eighteen are one-syllable. Yet, it is as profound as it is simple. Those twenty four words became the basis for decisions large and small by the Club Aluminum Company in those bleak depression days. The Company owed $400,000 more than its total assets, and the operating capital was a $6,100 loan from some reckless banker. But the Test must be put to the test. Would it work?. Can business people really live by it? There have always been those who have made a reaction instead of a response to the Four Way Test. One lawyer in a western city said, “If I followed the Test explicitly, I would starve to death.” (laugh) Where business is concerned I think the Four Way Test is absolutely impractical. The problem is understandable. When we talk about living the truth and measuring actions on the basis of benefits to others. It stirs bitter conflict within some of us, in the place where integrity and ambition lie side by side in uneasy suspension. Sizzling debates have been held in various parts of the world on the practicality of it as a way of living.

Truth, Fairness, Consideration provide a moral diet so rich it gives some of us ethical indigestion. No one has ever complained that the Test is too easy. It calls for thoughtful examination of motives and terrible probing of life’s goals. There are always those serious-minded Rotarians, not to mention assorted skeptics and negative thinkers, who view The Four Way Test as a simplistic philosophy of dubious worth, contradictory meaning, and unrealistic aims. One man reacts in anger, and another man or woman finds it to be an answer.

At Club Aluminum, everything was measured by the Four Way Test. First, they applied it to advertising. First of all the superlatives were eliminated from all of their advertising. Words like Better, Best, Greatest or Finest were dropped and replaced by factual descriptions of the product. All adverse comments against competitors were removed from advertising and sales literature. Members were asked to memorize the Test and use it in their relations with others and it gradually became a guide for every aspect of the business. Creating a climate of trust and good will among dealers, customers, and employees it gradually and completely changed the Club Aluminum picture for the better.

One day, the Sales Manager of Club Aluminum bounded in the door announcing a possible order for some 50,000 utensils. It was summertime, sales were low, so they were still in a bankrupt condition actually. They certainly needed and wanted that sale, but there was a hitch. The Sales Manager, after thinking about The Four Way Test, said his potential customer intended to sell the products at cut rate prices. “That wouldn’t be fair to our regular dealers who have been advertising and promoting our product consistently,” the Sale Manager said. “Who always sell at a set price which we agree is fair to all.” The order was turned down–probably one of the most difficult decisions the Company had to make in those depression years, but there was no question that this particular business transaction would have made a mockery out of The Four Way Test principle they professed to live by.

By 1937, the $400,000 indebtedness was paid off with interest. In the next 15 years, the Company distributed more that a million dollars in dividends to stockholders and its net worth climbed to more than $1,750,000.

The Four Way Test was born in the rough and tumble world of business. It was put to the acid test of experience in one of the toughest times that the business community has ever known in this country. I think we can say in all fairness–The Four Way Test has been tested in the arena of practical business life. In 1942, Richard Vernor, of Chicago, then a Director and later the Treasurer of Rotary International suggested that Rotary adopt the Test and the board voted approval of this in January of 1943. It was worked at that time into the Vocational Service program, though today it is considered a vital element in all four Rotary Avenues of Service, and has been translated into all principal languages. In 1954, Herb Taylor transferred property rites in the Test to Rotary International when he served as Rotary’s International President in 1954-55, during Rotary’s Golden Anniversary.

Has the Test lost its usefulness in modern society? Is it “sophisticated” enough to guide business and professional men and women in these fast-paced times? Former Governor of District 5260 here in California, Elmer R. Jordan, wrote: “It is the field of Vocational Service where you and I earn our daily bread, that we as Rotarians are judged. The way in which we conduct our business and profession is what really matters…How we reconcile our desire for profit with our willingness to render honest service will exemplify the dignity of our occupation in doing business in our community. Now, 53 years [after the Test was conceived] when the population of the country had doubled and great social, economic, and lifestyle changes have taken place…

Can The 4-Way Test Work?

  • “Is it the TRUTH?

There is a timelessness in truth which is unchangeable. Truth cannot exist without justice.

  • Is it FAIR to all concerned?

The substitution of fairness for the harsh principles of doing business at arm’s length has improved rather than urt business relationships.


Man is by nature a cooperative animal and it is his natural instinct to express love.

  • Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

This question eliminates the dog-eat-dog and substitutes the idea of constructive and creative competition.

This kind of competition is the hope of survival, not only of industry, but of the race itself. The 4-Way Test is international. It transcends national boundaries and language barriers. It knows no politics, dogma, or creed. It is not merely a code of ethics, it has all the ingredients for a successful life in every way.


The Four Way Test has been translated into the languages of more than 100 different countries at the time of this writing. Probably it has been translated into all of the countries where Rotary is represented by this time. Japan has led the world in practical uses of the Test. In 1954, the Osaka Rotary Club became the first to place it on the club banner. Some years ago, a Rotary Club in Japan initiated a project which provided loan umbrellas for railroad passengers caught in unexpected showers. One member wondered whether the commuters would return the umbrellas. Another suggested printing The Four Way Test on the underside of the umbrellas. Many months later the club reported that umbrellas had been used widely without the loss of a single one. In another city in Japan the Test is chiseled into a modernistic granite monument. Now the Japanese state things first in the positive and then in the negative. So their Four Way Test goes like this:

Is it the TRUTH, and never a LIE?

Is it FAIR to all concerned, and not UNFAIR to anyone?


Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned, and NOT HARMFUL to anyone?

High Schools and Colleges in more than 25 countries display The Four Way Test for the inspiration of their young people. To encourage sportsmanship, the Rotarians of Portland, Indiana, installed a Test sign in the school gym. It sits on the desk of more than a half million business and professional men and women in the United States alone. Countless poems have celebrated the Test. A Texas attorney, Rotarian O. M. Stubblefield of Dallas, put it to music with lyrics built around the four questions. In 1970, Rotarian Joseph Jennings of Lexington Park, Maryland wrote his Master’s Degree thesis at George Washington University on “The Four Way Test–A Viable Philosophy For Contemporary Managers”. Circuit Judge Arnold Cave of Madison, Wisconsin displayed the Test in his chambers. “Often,” he said, “during sometimes heated discussions between counsel and pre-trial conferences in his chambers, I have directed the attention of counsel to the Test with good results.” A copy of the Test in bronze was presented to Pepperdine University by Gerald M. Jennings, who was a member of the Rotary Club of Santa Monica when I was a member there.

Late in 1955, the President of the Daytona Beach, Florida Chamber of Commerce called Herb Taylor and said, “We have a situation here in Daytona–a bad situation.” “There are about 400 motels that constantly fight with each other and refuse to cooperate.” “Do you think we could use The Four Way Test to work this out?” “Absolutely,” answered Herb, and he offered precise recommendations on how the community could implement the program. The project got started with Walter LaGrande, a local pharmacist, spearheading the effort. Ministers announced it from their pulpits, plaques were set up in prominent places, and a full-page newspaper advertisement heralded the start of the campaign. Billboards along the roads into Daytona spotlighted the town’s espousal of The Four Way Test and soon the atmosphere of the community began to change. Motel owners agreed to form a central clearing house. When a Motel owner was unable to provide the kind of housing a tourist required, the request was sent to a clearing house. After a year of promotion and education with the Test, it was noted that even traffic accidents decreased over 5%, and injuries declined 20%. In 1955, 375 young people in Daytona were placed in juvenile homes. In 1956 after a year of trying The Four Way Test, there was a decrease of more than 50%–with only 184 being sent to detention homes.

Fifteen years later, Walter LaGrande reported, “The Four Way Test has created an entirely new moral climate in Daytona Beach and is still being practiced in the business community.

The Four Way Test has inspired safe driving programs, fire prevention campaigns, crime reduction activities, has been written into labor contracts, chiseled in granite, and has been the subject of countless essays. Its message has been shouted by billboards, enshrined in bronze plaques, painted on the back of moving vans, and promoted over radio and television. But it was really intended to be taken to heart and to be expressed in life, in action, in relationships, in business transactions. It’s purpose is to teach us how to think right in order that we can begin to act right.

The final test is in the doing. William James, the noted psychologist, once said, “The ultimate test of what a truth means is the conduct it dictates or inspires.” I like Herbert J. Taylor’s definition of Rotary: “Rotary is a maker of friendships, a builder of men and women and communities, and a creator of goodwill and friendships between the peoples of the world.” At the heart of Rotary today is The Four Way Test–a call to moral excellence. Human beings can grow together. Modern business can be honest and trustworthy. People can be led to believe in one another. And in all of these areas the philosophy of The Four Way Test can help.

Some years ago, John W. Gardner, a former U. S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare said, “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing, because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shabbiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy.” “Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Few things are needed more in our society than moral integrity. The Four Way Test will guide the man or woman who dares to use it in the right direction toward worthy objectives–choosing, winning, and keeping friends–getting along well with others–insuring a happy home life–developing high ethical and moral standards–becoming successful in a chosen business or profession–becoming a better citizen–becoming a better example for the young people of the coming generation. We live in a world where we have seen politics without principle, pleasure without conviction, knowledge without character, business without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.

At the Rotary International Convention in San Francisco, James S. Fish, said in a speech, “If business is to regain the respect it once enjoyed, it needs to do more than has been done so far, its standards must be higher, higher, I suggest, than the prevailing norms of society as a whole.” “Its practices cannot settle for the lowest common denominator.” “To endure, the competitive enterprise system must be practiced within the framework of a strict moral code.” “Indeed, the whole fabric of the capitalistic system rests to a large degree on trust–on the confidence that businessmen and women will deal fairly and honestly–not only with each other, but also with the general public, with the consumer, the stockholder, and the employee.” “The ethical standards of his or her company are the responsibility of the top man or woman and he or she must insist that those standards not be diluted as they are relayed, layer by layer, down through the corporate structure.”

Eloquently simple, stunning in its power, undeniable in its results, The Four Way Test offers a fresh and positive vision in the midst of a world full of tension, confusion, and uncertainty.

Is it the TRUTH?Is it FAIR to all concerned?


Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Well, there it is fellow Rotarians–our Four Way Test. And here we are almost at the start of a new Rotary year, and almost at the threshold of a new century. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT?

Rotary is indebted to Myron J. Taylor. Myron who gives a speech each year to his Rotary club in Westwood Village in the Los Angeles area on the Four Way Test. I hope this page in a small has shared some of his thoughts with you.