What Does Made In The USA Mean?

Made In America Label

Customers who see the “Made in USA” label on a product expect the claim to be truthful and accurate, especially with the increased interest in buying American-made goods. Since the attacks of September 11, news reports suggest consumers have become more sensitive to the “Made in USA” claims and are looking to support local businesses over companies that favor overseas production.

“Made in America” policies are designed to increase the use of and reliance on domestic supply chains and ultimately reduce spending taxpayer dollars on importing foreign-made goods. This policy also helps inspire confidence that you are supporting American jobs and industries. Unfortunately, the definition and variations on the phrase can leave consumers feeling confused.

What Is Made in America?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for defining what the labels made in America or made in the USA and for enforcing that standard. More broadly, the FTC is charged with preventing any deception in marketing and ensuring fairness throughout the United States marketplace. The specific guidelines and rules for claiming a product is “made in America” are outlined in their publication titled, “Complying with the Made in the USA Standard.”

There are two types of American made product claims: unqualified and qualified. Unqualified refers to any products that claim the product is “all or virtually all” made in the United States. Qualified claims mean the product was made in the US, but the raw materials may not be entirely of domestic origin.

More specifically, a product can only use the Made in the USA label if all significant parts, processing, and labor that go into the product are of US origin. Products should not contain any, or negligible, foreign content.

How Is It Regulated?

The FTC evaluates “Made in the USA” claims in product advertising, labeling, and packaging. For most products, with the exception of automobiles, textiles or wool products, there are no laws requiring manufacturers to make a “Made in USA” claim. If the business chooses to make the claim, they need to comply with the FTC’s standard.


Textiles and wools fall under a different standard. Under the Textile and Wool Acts, products must be labeled with the country where they were processed or manufactured. Imported goods will list the country of origin, while products made entirely of US materials must be labeled with “Made in the USA” or an equivalent phrase.

For those goods that are made of imported materials but processed within the United States, the manufacturer must disclose that the processing happened within the US, but the materials are foreign imports. Finally, any products manufactured partially in the US and partially outside of the US must show that on the label.


Under the American Automobile Labeling, every vehicle manufactured on or after October 1, 1994, and for sale within the US must bear a label clearly disclosing where the car was assembled, the percentage of equipment that originated in the US or Canada, and the country of origin for the engine and transmission.

Assembled Or Built In America

Assembled In USA Label

It is not uncommon to see certain products labelled “Assembled in America” or “Built in America.” Both of these are not the same as “Made in the USA” claims. These types of labels mean that the product is made of parts and materials that were imported to the United States and then assembled into the final product.

The FTC still regulates this, however, and their definition requires that items are “substantially transformed” on US soil. In other words, the parts and materials have been sufficiently altered to change their intended use or functionality, such as if a company imports leather that is later transformed into a pair of shoes.

How To Spot A False Claim: Rooting out fakes can be difficult, especially because of the somewhat vague FTC guidelines. Here are a few signs you can look out for if you suspect the claim might be fake.

Country of Origin: This is required to be posted somewhere easily visible on any product that originates outside of the USA. If the country of origin is not listed as the United States, the product is not American made.

Flag Stickers: These are often used to confuse consumers. A flag sticker or large USA label are not an indication that the product is actually made in the US.

Spelling or grammar mistakes: Any mistakes in spelling or grammar might indicate foreign manufacture because non-English-speaking workers may miss this during the process.

Made in America: While this could mean made in the US, “America” encompasses both Canada and Mexico.

Why Buying American Matters

In recent years, several presidential administrations have issued acts encouraging Americans to by US-made goods. These acts also impose rules on government agencies to increasingly buy American-made products instead of imports.

United States citizens of all backgrounds are calling for an increase in buying American made products. Supporters of buying American argue that products made in the US need to adhere to specific quality standards and lead to the creation of more jobs nationwide.

Legitimate “Made in the USA” labels can evoke a sense of national pride, too. Over the course of the nation’s history, the decline of the US manufacturing sector and the detrimental effect it had on employment in the country led to increased sensitivity and high levels of emotions surrounding this topic. This has also led to labels reading “Made in China” or other countries to become associated with the decline of the middle class, lower safety and quality standards, and substandard working conditions.

Next time you are considering buying a product, look for the official “Made in the USA” label. Feel good knowing you are supporting US industries, jobs, and local workers throughout the nation, as well as the economy.  

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