African Americans in Consumer Product Safety: Henry Aaron Hill

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was created in 1972 as a result of Congress passing and President Nixon signing the Consumer Product Safety Act. From its beginning, the agency has been charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with thousands of types of consumer products. In observance of Black History Month, CPSC recognizes African American leaders in product safety and applauds their contributions.

Henry Aaron Hill

Henry Aaron Hill: Keeping us safe from flammability hazards before there was a CPSC

Before the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created, there first was the National Commission on Product Safety, established in 1967. This is where we meet Mr. Henry Aaron Hill.

Hill was a pioneer in chemistry, focusing on polymer and fabric flammability. Hill helped birth the new polymer-products industry that introduced familiar products such as nylon and Teflon.

After forming his own company, National Polychemicals, Inc., Hill was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the National Commission on Product Safety where he and the Commission recommended the creation of an independent federal regulatory agency to serve as an advocate for the consumer. Hill and the Commission also recommended that the new agency have the authority to issue mandatory safety standards for consumer products.

Hill’s passion for consumer safety and government accountability show in his comments about the Flammable Fabrics Act in 1970:

“The Federal Government’s approach to the problem has been ‘piecemeal, narrowly conceived and…highly ineffective.’ Since the 1967 fabrics law was passed, no new flammability standards have been promulgated. The [Health, Education, and Welfare] HEW Department has produced only one of the required annual reports to the President and Congress, and that was a year late. The Government continues to purchase flammable fabrics and clothing for its own use. Mandatory Federal standards for selected fabric items are necessary and long overdue.”

Following Hill’s time with the Commission, he became the first African American to be elected president of the American Chemical Society, an organization of chemistry and science professionals. With his vast knowledge of chemicals used in consumer products, Hill made a remarkable contribution to the safety of the African American community and the nation.

Thank you, Mr. Henry Aaron Hill.

This is the first of seven profiles of African Americans who made significant contributions to product safety in the United States.

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