109 Years Ago Today: The Pure Food and Drug Act Signed Into Law

On June 30th, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Pure Food and Drug Act. “Twice in years past the House had approved pure-food legislation only to have it encounter delay in the Senate,” writes Wiley biographer Oscar E. Anderson, Jr. (1925-2013). “Now, when the Senate finally had acted, it proved difficult to win consideration in the House,” Anderson notes regarding the legislative travail earlier in 1906.

“Basically responsible for success those closing days of June was the force of public opinion. As Secretary Wilson had prophesied, Congress enacted pure food and drug legislation when the people demanded it.”

Read the bill here.

Here is a breakdown of the vote in Congress: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/59-1/h95

June 30th is another example of bizarre historical dates that seem to have transcendent value. On that day a little more than two decades later, Harvey W. Wiley passed away. A year before, Wiley had published his book The History of a Crime Against the Food Law: The Amazing Story of the National Pure Food and Drugs Law Intended to Protect the Health of the People, Perverted to Protect Adulteration of Foods and Drugs. So many copies of the book were mysteriously destroyed that few have been in circulation to this day. The digitized book distribution of the internet and the popularity of reprinting old titles is giving it a come back.

Here is Wiley’s eerily prescient conclusion to The History of a Crime:

If the Bureau of Chemistry has been permitted to enforce the law as it was written and as it tried to do, what would have been the condition now? No food product in our country would have any trace of benzoic acid, sulphurous acid or sulphites, or any alum or saccharin, save for medicinal purposes. No soft drink would contain caffein, or theobromine. No bleached flour would enter interstate commerce. Our foods and drugs would be wholly without any form of adulteration and misbranding.

The health of our people would be vastly improved and their life greatly extended. The manufacturers of our food supply, and especially the millers, would devote their energies to improving the public health and promoting happiness in every home by the production of the whole ground, unbolted cereal flours and meals.

The resistance of our people to infectious diseases would be greatly increased by a vastly improved and more wholesome diet. Our example would be followed by the civilized world and thus bring to the whole universe the benefits which our own people had received.

We would have been spared the ignominy and disgrace of great scientific men bending their efforts to defeat the purpose of one of the greatest laws ever enacted for the protection of the public welfare. Eminent officials of our Government would have escaped the indignation of outraged public opinion because they permitted and encouraged these frauds on the public. The cause of a wholesome diet would not have been put back for fifty or a hundred years. And last but least, this History of a Crime would never have been written.

Wiley signed book
A copy of Wiley’s book that he autographed. Photograph found at http://litbrit.blogspot.com/2007/06/diminished-capacity-fda-downsized-and.html.

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