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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

About FDA

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FDA Organizational Histories

Brief Organizational History
            In his 1837 annual report, Patent Commissioner Henry L. Ellsworth recommended a national agency for the encouragement of agriculture. Congress responded in 1839 by an appropriation of $1000 to the Commissioner of Patents for “the collection of agricultural statistics, and for other agricultural purposes.” From then on, the Patent Office collected and reported agricultural statistics, sponsored or conducted chemical investigations on agricultural matters, monitored agricultural developments, and reported on all of these in its annual reports.  Beginning in 1849, a separate report was made by the Patent Commissioner to Congress on agricultural matters. An Agricultural Division was established in the Patent Office and a chemical laboratory was created in that Division.
            In 1846, Professor Lewis C. Beck, M.D., of Rutgers College and Albany Medical College, published the first American treatise on adulteration of food and drugs. Two years later, at the request of Patent Commissioner Edmund burke, Congress appropriated $1000 for the Commissioner of Patents to conduct chemical analyses of “vegetable substances produced and used for the food of man and animals in the United States.” Commissioner Burke recruited Dr. Beck to do this work for the Patent Office. Dr. Beck submitted his Report on the Breadstuffs of the United States in 1849 and a second report in 1850.
            When the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was created by Congress in 1862, it included authorization to employ chemists. The Agricultural Division of the Patent Office, including its chemical laboratory, was transferred to the new department and the USDA occupied the office space in the basement of the Patent Office that previously had belonged to that Division. The first Commissioner of Agriculture, Isaac Newton, immediately established the Chemical Division from the former Patent Office chemical laboratory, which became the Division of Chemistry in 1890. Charles M. Wetherill was appointed to the position of Chemist of the Department in 1862 and early on he focused on means to improve the wine industry, fertilizers and other endeavors, but soon the chemist began investigating the adulteration of agricultural commodities. The small staff grew and in 1901 had become the Bureau of Chemistry;  the Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration in 1927; and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1930. The FDA was transferred from the USDA to the Federal Security Agency in 1940 and to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1953, which became the Department of Health and Human Services in 1979. The following served as Chemist/Chief Chemist/Chief prior to Harvey W. Wiley’s appointment as Chief Chemist in 1883.

Charles Mayer Wetherill


Henri Erni
(1864- 1866)
Thomas Antisell


Ryland T. Brown


William McMurtrie


Peter Collier