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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

About FDA

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Commissioner's Page

Charles Crawford

6/1/1951 - 7/31/1954

Picture of Charles W. CrawfordCharles Crawford was born on a farm in McLennan County, Texas, on July 21, 1888. In 1909, he graduated from Oklahoma A&M with a B.A. in chemistry. When he failed the Civil Service analyst exam, he began work at the Agricultural Experiment Station where he worked part time on state food and drug law enforcement problems, mainly analytical work. In 1915, Crawford obtained his master's degree, and again took the Civil Service analyst exam. This time he passed, and in 1917, finally got the job he wanted as an assistant chemist in the Bureau of Chemistry. After working as an analyst in the Chicago and New Orleans stations, he was drafted by Walter Campbell for administrative work in 1918, and never went back to the bench. In 1928, he became head of newly created Interstate Division.

Once a determination had been made by the New Deal Administration that it would seek a new federal food and drug statute, Crawford began to work on a legislative framework for the new law, and he quickly became the FDA's principal representative with the members of Congress and legislative advisers who drafted the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Crawford exhibited a special talent for legislative drafting, which even won him the respect of lawyers expert in that field. He advised members of Congress on the intricacies of food and drug problems and convinced them of the need for new protective features. Following passage of the 1938 Act, he was appointed FDA Technical Advisor, and assigned to the Office of the Chief of the FDA. In 1942, he became Assistant Commissioner. Crawford devoted most of his time from 1938-1944 formulating regulations and standards under the new law. Crawford's wordsmithing became one of his greatest lasting contributions. "He had an uncanny way of phrasing language to cover loopholes in any statement that would require living up to by those who were regulated," wrote one observer. "I think that his great service to the whole food and drug movement was getting statements into shape that could not be distorted or circumvented."

In 1951, when Paul Dunbar announced his intention to retire, Crawford was viewed the logical successor. In making the appointment, Oscar Ewing noted that "food and drug law enforcement is a highly specialized activity. Today, more than ever, the interest of the American consumer requires that this work be kept in experienced hands."

Under Crawford, the agency was forced to develop the scientific expertise needed to understand and meet the challenges of the nuclear age and the effects of radioactivity on foods and drugs. Crises included massive cleanup activities following the Kansas City flood of 1951, and the chloramphenicol investigation of 1952 which exposed the risk of deadly aplastic anemia from the indiscriminate use of the powerful antibiotic, and resulted in mandated revised drug labeling. Crawford launched the agency's Grain Sanitation Program, the largest compliance program in the history of the agency, designed to keep flour and bakery products free of filth, and directed action against nutritional and dietary quackery. Crawford was innovative and deliberate in using education and information to reach important objectives. Following a public relations nightmare over the establishment of standards of identity for white bread, Crawford approved the appointment of 16 part-time consumer consultants--one for each district.

After the Supreme Court overturned the agency's factory inspection authority, resulting in a de facto reduction in the agency's abilities to compel industry records, Crawford presided over a political debacle which threatened to leave the agency's inspectional authority even more emasculated. Although the problem was not adequately addressed until the 1962 Drug Amendments were passed, questions about the reach of the agency's authority drew increasing attention to its lack of resources. In 1952, the agency had only 230 inspectors and 300 laboratory scientists. A cut in the 1953 appropriation from $5,648,000 to $5,000,000 resulted in the agency's first and only Reduction in Force, resulting in the loss of about one hundred employees. By 1954, agency resources remained at the low level they had struck in 1948, and the enforcement staff was the same as in 1940 despite new industries, new food and drug technology, and new amendments.

Crawford met this challenge by adopting a bureaucratic tactic popular in the Eisenhower administration. In a memo to Undersecretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Nelson A. Rockefeller dated September 1, 1953, Crawford suggested the appointment of an advisory committee to look at the agency's resources relative to consumer demand. Five months later, the First Citizen's Advisory Committee on the FDA made one hundred recommendations, and concluded that "FDA has insufficient funds, staff, and facilities to meet its essential responsibility of protecting the public health." The committee further anticipated that the agency would "require expansion in personnel and facilities between and three and fourfold within five to ten years." Following the Committee's report, HEW Secretary Oveta Culp Hobby accepted Crawford's resignation. Three years after retiring, Charles Crawford died of leukemia on September 15, 1957.