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  1. FDA History

FDA Leadership: 1907 to Today

Today’s position of Commissioner of Food and Drugs perhaps can be traced back to Lewis Caleb Beck, hired around 1848 to conduct chemical investigations for the agricultural division in the Patent Office of the Department of Interior. In 1846, Professor 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 men served as Chemist, Chief Chemist or Chief prior to Harvey Washington Wiley's appointment as Chief Chemist in 1883.

Leaders Tenure
Charles Mayer Wetherill (1862-1864)
Henri Erni (1864- 1866)
Thomas Antisell (1866-1871)
Ryland T. Brown (1872-1873)
William McMurtrie (1873-1878)
Peter Collier (1878-1883)

Despite the decades of leadership preceding his appointment as Chief Chemist, Harvey Wiley is often recognized as the first head of the agency because his activism was crucial to the enactment of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act -- also known as the "Wiley Act" -- which first provided for the federal regulation of foods and drugs.

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