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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

International Programs

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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.

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 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. The FDA web site located at www.fda.gov 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, you will find links there to key related web sites as well as citations to valuable sources to help understand the history of FDA.