Dr.Whitaker and Food

Dr.Whitaker and Food

Harvey Wiley, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Federal Regulation of Food and Drugs
By Anthony Gaughan Food and Drug Law Mr. Peter Barton Hutt Harvard Law School Winter 2004


In 1906 Congress passed two landmark pieces of legislation: the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. The acts emerged from the reformist ethos of the Progressive Era, a time when the federal government took on a new and much more active role in the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. Of all the laws passed during the Progressive Era, no legislation proved more successful and more enduring than the 1906 food and drug legislation. The acts established the foundations of modern American food and drug law, and gave birth to the Food and Drug Administration. For the first time, the federal government assumed permanent and comprehensive responsibility for the health and safety of the American food and drug supply. Although the statutes have been revised many times since 1906, the essence of modern food and drug law remains consistent with the principles of federal responsibility for consumer safety that underlay the first statutes a century ago.

The passage of the 1906 food and drug legislation stemmed from the actions of many people across the political landscape, ranging from Senator Albert Beveridge to socialist writer Upton Sinclair. But no indi-


viduals played a larger public role in the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act than Theodore Roosevelt and Harvey Wiley. Roosevelt, as president of the United States, and Wiley, as chief chemist of the Agriculture Department, served as twin driving forces for Congressional passage of the acts. To be sure, Wiley and Roosevelt did not act alone. The 1906 legislation resulted from years of efforts by politicians, government officials, industry representatives, and “muckraking” journalists. But Roosevelt and Wiley played a uniquely important role in the national debate over food and drug...

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