Gentlemen's agreement
A gentlemen's agreement is an informal agreement
Agreement may refer to:* Agreement or concord, cross-reference between parts of a phrase* Gentlemen's agreement, not enforceable by law* Contract, enforceable in a court of law...

 between two or more parties. It may be written, oral, or simply understood as part of an unspoken agreement by convention or through mutually beneficial etiquette. The essence of a gentlemen's agreement is that it relies upon the honor of the parties for its fulfillment, rather than being in any way enforceable. It is, therefore, distinct from a legal agreement or contract
A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

, which can be enforced if necessary.


The phrase's first known use was in 1888 in the Report of the Railway Accounting Officers published by the Association of American Railroads Accounting Division (page 337).


A gentleman's agreement, defined in the early 20th century as "an agreement between gentlemen looking toward the control of prices", was reported by one source to be the loosest form of a "pool". These types of agreements have been reported to be found in every type of industry
Industry refers to the production of an economic good or service within an economy.-Industrial sectors:There are four key industrial economic sectors: the primary sector, largely raw material extraction industries such as mining and farming; the secondary sector, involving refining, construction,...

, and very numerous in the steel and iron industries.

A report from the United States House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 detailing their investigation of the United States Steel Corporation asserted that there were two general types of loose associations or consolidations
Consolidation (business)
Consolidation or amalgamation is the act of merging many things into one. In business, it often refers to the mergers and acquisitions of many smaller companies into much larger ones. In the context of financial accounting, consolidation refers to the aggregation of financial statements of a group...

 between steel and iron interests in the 1890s in which the individual concerns retained ownership as well as a large degree of independence: the "pool" and the "gentleman's agreement". The latter type lacked any formal organization to regulate output or prices, nor did they contain any provisions for forfeiture in the event of an infraction. The efficacy of the agreement relied on members to keep informal pledges.

In the automotive industry, Japanese manufacturers agreed that no production car would have more than 276 horsepower, which ended in 2005. German manufacturers limit the top speed of high-performance saloons (sedans) and station wagons to 250 kilometres per hour (155 miles per hour).

International relations

Gentlemen's agreements have come to regulate international activities such as the coordination of monetary
Monetary policy
Monetary policy is the process by which the monetary authority of a country controls the supply of money, often targeting a rate of interest for the purpose of promoting economic growth and stability. The official goals usually include relatively stable prices and low unemployment...

 or trade policies. According to Edmund Osmańczyk
Edmund Osmanczyk
Edmund Jan Osmańczyk , Polish writer, author of Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements....

 in the Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements, it is also defined as "an international term for an agreement made orally rather than in writing, yet fully legally valid". This type of agreement may allow a nation to avoid the domestic legal requirements to enter into a formal treaty
A treaty is an express agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as an agreement, protocol, covenant, convention or exchange of letters, among other terms...

, or it may be useful when a government wants to enter into a secret agreement that is not binding upon the next administration. According to another author, all international agreements are gentlemen's agreements because, short of war, they are all unenforceable. Osmańczyk pointed out that there is a difference between open gentlemen's agreements and secret diplomatic agreements. In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, a prohibition against gentlemen's agreements in commercial relations between states was introduced in 1890 due to the secretive nature of such agreements being beyond anyone's control.

As a discriminatory tactic

Gentlemen's agreements were a widely-used discriminatory tactic reportedly more common than restrictive covenants in "preserving" the homogenity of upper-class neighborhoods and suburbs in the United States. The nature of these agreements made them extremely difficult to prove or to track, and were effective long after the United States Supreme Court's rulings in Shelley v. Kraemer
Shelley v. Kraemer
Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 , is a United States Supreme Court case which held that courts could not enforce racial covenants on real estate.-Facts of the case:...

and Barrows v. Jackson. One source states that gentlemen's agreements "undoubtedly still exist", but that their use has greatly diminished.

In 1934, the National Football League
National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...

 entered into a gentlemen's agreement to ban black players. Until Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson
Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was the first black Major League Baseball player of the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947...

 was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, a gentlemen's agreement also ensured that African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 players were excluded from organized baseball
Baseball color line
The color line in American baseball excluded players of black African descent from Organized Baseball, or the major leagues and affiliated minor leagues, until Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization for the 1946 season...


Gentlemen's bet

A variation on the gentlemen's agreement is the gentlemen's bet
Bet or BET may refer to:* A wager in gambling* Basic Economics Test * Bet , the second letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Aramaic, Hebrew, Phoenician and Syriac* Brunauer-Emmett-Teller isotherm. See BET_theory...

, wherein there is nothing to win or lose through the bet, other than the honor of winning and shame of losing.

See also

  • Anti-trust
  • Gentlemen's agreement of Andhra Pradesh (1956)
  • Good faith
    Good faith
    In philosophy, the concept of Good faith—Latin bona fides “good faith”, bona fide “in good faith”—denotes sincere, honest intention or belief, regardless of the outcome of an action; the opposed concepts are bad faith, mala fides and perfidy...

  • Handshake
    A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp one of each other's like hands, in most cases accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands.-History:...

  • Memorandum of understanding
    Memorandum of understanding
    A memorandum of understanding is a document describing a bilateral or multilateral agreement between parties. It expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. It is often used in cases where parties either do not imply a legal commitment or in...

  • List of fastest production motorcycles for the agreement to limit production motorcycles to 300 km/h (186 mph)
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