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about NYPIRG > history

NYPIRG History

There is a fair amount of debate about the precise moment when NYPIRG’s story begins. 1973 is certainly a fair place to start, when three visionary groups of college students from Queens, Central, and Western New York came together and officially incorporated under one name, the New York Public Interest Research Group. From within their ever-growing student base they built the organization’s board of directors, comprised entirely of students, and hired a small, dynamic staff to give the students the continuity and expertise to be able to research and propose solutions to a range of societal problems. From the start, the organization had a clear and symbiotic dual mission: to provide a critical training ground for students and community members to be active participants in their own democracy and to bring about meaningful social change.

Within two years of its founding, NYPIRG students and staff, working side by side as they do today, had blazed a trail in government reform, profiling the entire legislature — much to the legislators’ chagrin; suing them over their pay — ingratiating us further, and securing the successful passage of the landmark Freedom of Information Law, opening official government records to the public for the first time in the state’s history. 

As NYPIRG grew, so did the need for a broader foundation. In the cold Buffalo winter of 1976, NYPIRG became the first student organization in the country to establish a full-time, professionally operated, door-to-door canvass to raise funds.  A critical tool for empowering community members to impact public interest issues and bringing in vital income to fund the work, NYPIRG’s canvass continues to grow each year and today boasts tens of thousands of supporters across New York State while employing scores of students each summer.

Firmly on the map from our groundbreaking government oversight work, NYPIRG was quick to branch into consumer protection, voters’ rights and environmental preservation. Before the 70’s came to a close the organization had fought and won a battle against redlining by banks in Brooklyn, established Small Claims Court Action Centers to counsel consumers on their legal rights, secured passage of the state’s Generic Drug Law, and published scores of guides and reports, including Troubled Waters, a report based upon a 20-month study of toxic chemical contamination of the Hudson River drinking water supplies.  The NYPIRG Fuel Buyers Group began using group buying power to help consumers heat their homes for less, and the Straphangers Campaign began advocating for better subways and buses. Eleven campus chapters crisscrossed the state and NYPIRG’s presence in the legislature, courts and communities skyrocketed.

In the three decades to follow, NYPIRG has played a key role in fighting for hundreds of public interest laws, regulations and executive orders.  The listing of highlights is pages and pages long, and growing every year.  Our work on the 1984 “Millions More October 4” event registered more than 50,000 new voters on a single day. From 1982’s Bottle Return Law to its expansion 27 years later, from closing the world’s largest garbage dump to the establishment of regulations that require coal-fired power plants to reduce pollution from mercury by 90% — NYPIRG has been on the job, vigilantly protecting the public interest and empowering tens of thousands of students and community members to work within the system for the kinds of reforms that have real impact on their daily lives.