Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, author, and has been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Americans in the Twentieth Century.
For over four decades Ralph Nader has exposed problems and organized millions of citizens into more than 100 public interest groups to advocate for solutions.
His efforts have helped to create a framework of laws, regulatory agencies, and federal standards that have improved the quality of life for two generations of Americans.
His groups were instrumental in enacting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In the past decade, Nader has dedicated himself to putting people back in charge of America’s democracy, launching three major presidential campaigns.
Because of Ralph Nader we drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water, and work in safer environments.
The Early Years
Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut on February 27, 1934, to Rose and Nathra Nader, immigrants from Lebanon.
Ralph's family owned and operated the Highland Arms, a restaurant and gathering place for members of their small community.
Nader and his three siblings grew up in an environment where current events and politics were discussed both around the dinner table and with customers at the family restaurant.
There, it was said, for a nickel you would get a cup of coffee and ten minutes of politics.
Taught to value social justice, Nader learned from a young age to be an active participant in the American democratic system.
To avoid a repeat of three disastrous floods in the town's main street, Nader's mother once famously pressed then Senator Prescott Bush during a public gathering to pledge to build a dry dam by not letting go of his handshake until he had promised to build the dam.
As Nader's father would often say, "If you do not use your rights, you will lose your rights."
When Nader was ten, his father asked him: "Well, Ralph, what did you learn in school today? Did you learn how to believe or did you learn how to think?"
In 1955 Ralph Nader received an AB magna cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs Princeton University, with a major in East Asian studies, which afforded him the opportunity to study Chinese and Russian.
In 1958, he received an LLB with distinction from Harvard Law School.
After a six-month spell in the Army in 1959, Ralph traveled through Latin America, Africa, and Europe, where he gained first hand witness of the time's great social struggles and interviewed world leaders as a freelance journalist.
He began practicing law in Hartford, Connecticut in 1959 and from 1961-63 he lectured on history and government at the University of Hartford.
Nader's career as a public advocate started at the age of 31 with an article titled "The Safe Car You Can't Buy," which along with his subsequent book, Unsafe at Any Speed, documented safety defects in U.S. cars and criticized the automobile industry's safety practices, specifically targeting the Corvair.
Helped by testimony from the CEO of General Motors that the company had hired a private detective to investigate Nader's private life, the book became a best seller.
Nader subsequently sued GM for invasion of privacy and received $425,000 in an out-of-court settlement. He invested and used the money as a de facto philanthropic fund for his projects aimed at strengthening civil society.
Nader's research on auto safety and his lobbying in Washington helped push Congress to pass the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
He also lobbied for the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act, which called for federal inspections of beef and poultry and imposed standards on slaughterhouses, the 1967 Freedom of Information Act and the 1970 Clean Air Act.
In 1969, he helped found the Center for Study of Responsive Law (CSRL), a non-profit organization staffed mostly by college, graduate and law students. Those students became known as "Nader's Raiders" and studied and issued reports on a variety of consumer issues.
In his career as consumer advocate he founded many organizations including the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action Project, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for Corporate Responsibility and The Multinational Monitor (a unique monthly magazine that keeps tabs on corporate behavior internationally).
In the 1980's, with the election of President Reagan, powerful corporate interests gathered momentum and became increasingly assertive in the pursuit of their narrow interests, throwing up roadblocks to Nader's efforts to advance the well-being of the American people.
With the two major parties dialing for the same dollars, their differences dwindled on most major issues (single-payer healthcare, living wage, replacing fossil fuels and nuclear with many practical variants of solar power, and a foreign policy that wages peace instead of war).
After working for 40 years on behalf of the health, safety, and economic well being of the American people, Nader took stock of the situation: "I don't like citizen groups being shut out by both parties in this city -- corporate occupied territory -- not having a chance to improve their country."
Never one to be stymied, Nader responded to the declining influence of civil society over elected representatives by entering the electoral arena himself, and is now on his third major presidential campaign aimed at reinvigorating America's democracy, in the best traditions of the suffragettes, labor party, and abolitionists of the 19th and early 20th century.
When asked in 2004 if he was worried about his legacy being tarnished from the hurly burly of presidential politics, Nader responded: "Who cares about my legacy? My legacy is established. They're not going to tear seatbelts out of cars. I look to the future. That's the important thing."
In an era when politicians sell us rhetoric and then sell out our principles, Nader stands out as one politician that can be counted on to never sell out.
There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship toward 'a new birth of freedom.' —Ralph Nader