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The Mc Kinley Tariff Act of 1890

Published on : 29 January 2019

The McKinley Tariff Act of 1890

In 1890, William McKinley, a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio, introduced a tariff bill, which became known as the McKinley Tariff suggesting that protective import taxes should be placed on foreign goods. By this, imported products should become more expensive as compared to similar made in America and by this growing industries within the United States would be protected from foreign competition.

The McKinley Tariff was passed into law in 1890 and dramatically increased the import tax on foreign products. The result was the highest protective import tax in American history to that point, with an average rate of 48 percent. While many business owners supported this legislation many Americans viewed this act as just a method for some businessmen to ’get rich quick’ rather than lowering the prices on American goods.
The tariffs of 1890 set the import tax on for example "China, Porcelain, Parian ware" etc. to sixty percent ad valorem and fifty five percent "if not decorated". The tariff law of 1897 - Fifty-fifth Congress, first session - kept the porcelain import tax at this level.

Regarding the country of origin marking, it was stated in the tariff bill in the original printed Act of 1890:

"That on and after the first day of March, eighteen hundred and ninety-one, all articles of foreign manufacture, such as are usually or ordinarily marked, stamped, branded or labelled, and all packages containing such or other imported articles, shall, respectively, be plainly marked, stamped, branded, or labeled in legible English words, so as to indicate the country of their origin; and unless so marked, stamped or branded, or labeled they shall not be admitted to entry."

This specific regulation that was in force from the 1st of March, 1891 did not outlaw the use of Japanese or Chinese or in fact any other characters than the English alphabet from being used or combined with any particular marking, but it definitely was for the protection of the US home market and industry that all imported porcelains should be marked with the country of origin written in the western alphabet. At first, this regulation resulted in that Japanese porcelain were marked "NIPPON" and Chinese "CHINA".

The original name for Japan is a combination of the two characters ni meaning ’day or sun’ and hon meaning ’rising’ which gave the name ’Nihon’, or ’Nippon’ (日本) that better fitted the Japanese pronunciation. In 1921 the US ruled that ’Nippon’ had to be changed into the by then usual Western name ’Japan’.

More interestingly was that the original intent, as most understand it, was that the "containers" imported, meaning the boxes and crates needed this labeling, but not necessarily everything inside because marking each individual piece was in many instances impractical. Also, since objects imported into the USA at various ports of entry along the West coast of California were in "containers", they were rarely opened if labeled properly on the outside.

And a funny story, some Japanese manufacturer interpreted "container" to mean cup or bowl or vase, not the box or crate, so labelled each one with Nippon or later, Japan.
and.... of course, pieces brought back by tourists were not subject to this requirement.

By John C. Wocher