Membership certificate, ca. 1922

Trademark in the Archives, Part I: The Invention of REALTOR®

In honor of the REALTOR® Trademark Centennial, we’ve looked back through the NAR Archives to share documents that tell the history of the term. The first post in this series examines how NAR’s adoption of REALTOR® was due in large part to the tireless efforts of a member from Minnesota.

According to the historical record, REALTOR® was the invention of Charles Chadbourn, a real estate professional and one-time president of the Minneapolis Real Estate Board.  Wanting to distinguish the practices of National Association of Real Estate Board members, all of whom were required to adhere to the association’s Code of Ethics instituted in 1913, from the unethical behavior then common in the field, Chadbourn first suggested the term to NAREB in January of 1916.  After proposing the idea, Chadbourn launched his campaign for national adoption of the term, submitting resolutions to the Executive Committee, writing letters to the association’s general counsel Nathan William MacChesney, and penning articles in the National Real Estate Journal.

Nelson’s letter to Chadbourn, April 14, 1916

Nelson’s letter to Chadbourn, April 14, 1916

In the meantime, Chadbourn encouraged use of the term at his local level, presenting the idea at a Minneapolis Real Estate Board meeting in January of 1916.  His suggestion caught the interest of MREB (and later NAREB) Executive Secretary Herbert U. Nelson, who soon found a simple way to increase awareness of the term among the board’s members.  When MREB instituted a weekly bulletin for members, Nelson knew just what the title should be: “The question of a name for the bulletin was left to my discretion, and I selected “THE REALTOR” as a suitable and expressive caption.” The inaugural issue of the bulletin on February 27, 1916 marked the first appearance of the term REALTOR in print.

First appearance of REALTOR® in print: “The Realtor” bulletin, February 27, 1916

First appearance of REALTOR® in print: “The Realtor” bulletin, February 27, 1916

The National Association was not far behind in the official approval of the term.  Not even six months after Chadbourn first wrote to NAREB with his suggestion, the Executive Committee gave its unanimous consent to adopt the term REALTOR® at its meeting in Columbus, Ohio.  The final resolution decreed that “the newly created word ‘Realtor’ … to be used only by members of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, while they are in good standing, upholding its Code of Ethics.”  As a result of the decision, all NAREB members subsequently received new membership certificates, granting the authority to use the term REALTOR®.  While the first of these certificates have been lost to time, an early version dating from around 1922 is preserved in the NAR Archives.

Membership certificate, ca. 1922

Membership certificate, ca. 1922

Hathaway Hester

Information & Digitization Specialist

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