About FDA

History

The Food and Drug Administration is the oldest comprehensive consumer protection agency in the U. S. federal government. Its origins can be traced back to the appointment of Lewis Caleb Beck in the Patent Office around 1848 to carry out chemical analyses of agricultural products, a function that the newly created Department of Agriculture inherited in 1862. Although it was not known by its present name until 1930, FDA’s modern regulatory functions began with the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, a law a quarter-century in the making that prohibited interstate commerce in adulterated and misbranded food and drugs. Harvey Washington Wiley, Chief Chemist of the Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture, had been the driving force behind this law and headed its enforcement in the early years, providing basic elements of protection that consumers had never known before that time.


A rectangular shape box with a man battling a skelton (left) and on the right same picture but in the form of a stamp.

The U. S. Post Office recognized the 1906 Act as a landmark of the 20th century when it released this stamp, the design of which was based on a 19th century patent medicine trading card.


The FDA and its responsibilities have undergone a metamorphosis since 1906. Similarly, the marketplace itself, the sciences undergirding the products the agency regulates, and the social, cultural, political, and economic changes that have formed the context for these developments, all have witnessed upheavals over the past century. Yet the core public health mission of the agency remains now as it did then. This web site features a variety of portals that offer insight into these changes, from overviews on how consumer protection laws evolved, to case studies that explore and interpret the agency’s work and policies. In addition, the visitor will find links to key related web sites as well as citations to valuable sources to help understand the history of FDA.


Several people gathered around a table examining items

FDA Inspector William Ford is at the center of activity in dealing with the 1937 flooding of the Ohio River and its impact on regulated commodities.


Images from FDA History

The FDA History Office has mounted a series of 200 posters around the headquarters campus in Silver Spring, Maryland, illustrating the evolution of FDA's work to protect and promote the public health. These include posters from public health campaigns, images of FDA inspectors, analysts, and others at work, and the commodities the agency regulates. These photos are also available for public access on FDA's Flickr photo-stream disclaimer icon.

Page Last Updated: 12/17/2014
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