The Film Archives
Published on Jan 1, 2016
Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut, to Nathra and Rose (née Bouziane) Nader, immigrants from Lebanon, who were Antiochian Greek Orthodox Christians. They raised the children in their homeland’s culture with both their native Arabic and English, telling them proverbs and stories they felt would encourage independent thought, appreciation of things such as wildlife that cannot be “measured by the dollar,” plus instill traits such as perseverance and inner strength. His father initially worked in a textile mill; later, he owned a bakery and restaurant, where he discussed politics with customers, which Ralph listened to along with their comments about conditions at the meat-packing plant, the chemicals they were exposed to, and similar issues that later featured in his activism. His political beliefs and interest in law were also influenced by watching town hall meetings, referendums, and listening to the lawyers argue at the courthouse near his home. His siblings followed similar paths: Laura became a professor of social and cultural anthropology at U.C. Berkeley, Claire earned a doctorate in political science then became a social scientist, and brother Shafeek had a law degree from Boston University. 
Nader graduated from The Gilbert School, a private post secondary school in Winsted, Connecticut, in 1951. He then was accepted at Princeton University, and the university offered him a scholarship, but his father turned it away, saying it should go to a student who couldn’t afford tuition. Nader graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1955. He then went on to Harvard Law School, where he obtained a Bachelor of Laws in 1958.
After serving six months on active duty in the United States Army in 1959, he was admitted to the bar and started practice as a lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut. He was an assistant professor of history and government at the University of Hartford from 1961 to 1963.
In 1964, Nader moved to Washington, D.C., where he was appointed as a political aide to the Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan and also advised a United States Senate subcommittee on car safety. Nader has served on the faculty at the American University Washington College of Law.
Nader began to write about consumer safety issues in articles published in the Harvard Law Record, a student publication of Harvard Law School. He first criticized the automobile industry in 1959 in an article, “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy”, published by The Nation.
In 1965, Nader wrote the book Unsafe at Any Speed, in which he claimed that many American automobiles were unsafe to operate. The first chapter, “The Sporty Corvair – The One-Car Accident”, pertained to the Corvair manufactured by the Chevrolet division of General Motors (GM), which had been involved in accidents involving spins and rollovers. More than 100 lawsuits were pending against GM related to accidents involving the popular compact car. Nader based his initial investigations into car safety on these lawsuits.
In early March 1966, several media outlets, including The New Republic and The New York Times, reported that GM had tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past, and hiring prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations. Nader sued the company for invasion of privacy and settled the case for $425,000. Nader’s lawsuit against GM was ultimately decided by the New York Court of Appeals, whose opinion in the case expanded tort law to cover “overzealous surveillance”. Nader used the proceeds from the lawsuit to start the pro-consumer Center for Study of Responsive Law.
Image By http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/ Don LaVange [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…)], via Wikimedia Commons
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