What Does "Made in USA" Mean?

Many products identify where they were made. It is so common to see “Made in USA” or “Made in China” that it is easy to give these labels just a cursory glance without much of a second thought. But what does “Made in USA” really mean? There is a lot more to this simple phrase than most people realize.

The basic definition

The “Made in USA” mark is a country of origin label for products that are completely or almost completely made within the United States. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates how and when this identifier is appropriate.

What the label really means

  • Officially, only wool, fur, textile products, and automobiles are required to be labeled “Made in USA” if manufactured in this country. If only a portion of a textile is manufactured in the United States, all of the other countries involved in the production process must also be listed. It is fortunate that so many products that do not fall under these regulations still include country of origin information.
  • Individual businesses must determine if their products meet the criteria for “Made in USA” status.  FTC guidelines are available to assist businesses with this decision-making process. Above all else, the FTC does not want product guidelines to be misleading for consumers. Businesses are not required to seek official approval, however, and there is no system to automatically review claims.  The FTC will investigate only if it receives a significant number of complaints about a particular company.
  • Products labeled “Assembled in USA” need to have been substantially transformed within the United States. An electronic device made entirely from foreign parts but assembled in the United States, for example, does not qualify for the “Assembled in USA” label.

Questions that arise

  • Are the guidelines too loose? Many people are particularly concerned about products consumed by people and animals. They want information about whether these products contain even very small quantities of foreign ingredients.
  • Is it appropriate for a “Made in USA” label to come with disclaimers? For example, a board game may sport the “Made in USA” label but have another note stating that a substantial number of the game pieces were made in China. Consumers are left wondering just how much of the game was actually made in the United States.
  • Why do some companies choose to omit country of origin? A number of prominent companies make or assemble their products in the United States but choose not to share this information. Many consumers are passionate about buying “Made in USA” or “Assembled in USA” products. They want to support American workers and this information influences their purchasing decision-making process. They become frustrated when this information is not readily available.

Why do people buy “Made in USA” products?

  • Many consumers know family members and close friends who have lost their jobs after manufacturers and textile companies moved their operations overseas. These consumers feel strongly about keeping a substantial number of factory jobs in the United States.
  • Typically, factory workers in the United States receive humane workplace treatment, thanks to laws and regulations. Many countries do not have these same standards.
  • The United States is one of the few countries in the world that mandates and enforces regulated wages, ensuring that American workers receive fair payments.
  • Goods made in the United States must adhere to consumer safety standards and protection laws. These have a much higher chance of being safe than products made overseas.
  • American consumers enjoy knowing that their money is going to local workers. Many people would rather purchase American-made items, even if they contain foreign parts, than products made entirely overseas.
  • People tend to buy imported products rather than American-made goods for lower prices. Many overseas suppliers, however, use lower-quality components to reduce costs. Overall quality suffers. American-made products may be more expensive, but they are also higher quality.


About the author:

Tom Bonine is president of National Metal Fabricators. The Chicago area metal fabrication manufacturing company, established in 1944, offers custom fabrication, angle rings, welding, and bar milling services.