ImageAt our October 1 meeting, John Vineyard told the story of the Four-Way Test. John found that it was derived from a code of ethics written out by Chicago businessman (and Chicago Rotary President), Herbert Taylor (1893–1978). In the throes of the Great Depression, Taylor’s company, Club Aluminum Products, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In his drive to save the business for him and his 250 employees, he laid down a set of principles by which to operate, and which we now recite as the Four-Way Test. 


It is further accepted that Taylor’s 4 principles grew from the 19th century English poet Chauncy Townsend’s The Three Gates, which turned up in the New World as a poem in a 6th grade reader (1915) called The Three Gates of Gold:

If you are tempted to reveal
A tale to you someone has told
About another, make it pass,
Before you speak, three gates of gold;

Three narrow gates. First, "Is it true?",
Then, "Is it needful?" In your mind
Give truthful answer. And the next
Is last and narrowest "Is it kind?"

And if to reach your lips at last
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
What the result of speech may be.
[Source 1Source 2]

John noted that three way tests are widespread in culture and literature — three questions from the Genie, three trials for the young hero, ‘strict scrutiny’ by the Supreme Court to decide constitutionality of a law. (Compelling Government Interest, Narrowly Tailored, Least Restrictive Means for accomplishing its end), and so forth. The four way test, not so much. In fact, John said, the Rotary Four-Way test is more of a three-and-a-half question test since the last question essentially repeats the sentiments of the previous questions.

Herbert Taylor put the Four Way Test to the test at Club Aluminum, even turning away a large order that would not have been “Fair to all concerned,” and very likely would not have built goodwill and better friendships. The corporate culture of fairness and trustworthiness proved to be successful, and the company was eventually able to pay off its debts and pay dividends to shareholders.

Herb Taylor signed the Four Way Test over to Rotary International when he served as R.I. president in 1954.

For more about the Four Way Test, visit the History page of