- In 1971, Jack Rosenberg, formerly a car salesman from Philadelphia, goes through a divorce and emerges in San Francisco with a new name, Werner Erhard, and a new idea, a human potential movement called est.
The name stands for Erhard Seminars Training, a mix of Zen, Scientology and Erhard's own ideas for motivation and self-improvement. In the 1970s, Erhard's programs catch on.
- By January, 1977, some 100,000 people, including celebrities like John Denver, Yoko Ono and Carly Simon, have taken the 60-hour est training, paying $300 for training that required that they submit to name-calling and "agreements" governing when they could sleep, eat or go to the bathroom.
There are some est dropouts, some disillusioned and a few claiming they were abused by the est training. In 1980, a Monmouth County, N.J., couple filed a $1-million suit against the Erhard Seminars Training claiming that its practices resulted in "severe and permanent emotional, psychological and physical injuries" to a woman who attended two introductory sessions.
Still, many est graduates claim they have been reborn.
Further, said Jack Mantos, executive vice president for Werner Erhard & Associates, the few claims of mental abuse have not been substantiated.
- In 1977, Erhard, with singer John Denver, founds the Hunger Project, an effort to end world hunger by the year 2000. According to Werner Erhard & Associates, more than 4 million people around the world have worked with the project.
- In December, 1984, Erhard announces that he is retiring his est training for a new "personal effectiveness" program geared to the '80s, The Forum.
Unlike the sometimes harsh est training, The Forum is to be an inquiry for "healthy, able, independent people" to explore the concept of "being." Says a brochure: "Being fashions our personality, our character. Being literally determines who you are ." Tuition costs $525 for the 50-hour course.
In announcing the new program, Erhard said the changes are not related to an audit of est by the Internal Revenue Service that could cost the organization about $1 million, or to his divorce proceedings in which his wife is seeking a share of the association.
Although Erhard programs continue to attract a large following of professional people, generally ages 35 to 45, skeptics remain. Some psychiatrists, attorneys and est dropouts continue to claim that its purpose is to make money or that it is a cult.
Mantos denies that. He did note, however, that Werner Erhard & Associates boasts revenues of "about $30 million a year."
Today, the association claims a network of nearly 550,000 graduates of either est training or The Forum.