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  1. FDA Leadership: 1907 to Today

Paul B. Dunbar

 Photo of Paul B. Dunbar, Ph.D.

  Paul B. Dunbar, Ph.D.

5/6/1944 - 5/31/1951

Paul B. Dunbar was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, on May 29, 1882. He graduated from Gettysburg College in 1904. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Johns Hopkins in 1907 where he studied under Dr. Ira Remsen. After passing the stringent Civil Service examination for analysts, Dunbar was appointed in 1907 as one of the original group of chemists to undertake enforcement of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. A food chemist, Dr. Dunbar started his career in the lab of the Bureau of Chemistry in Washington. He met his first wife, Alice L. Davison, also a Ph.D. chemist, from the University of Pennsylvania, while working in the laboratory. In 1915, Dunbar became assistant to W. G. Campbell, chief of the Eastern Food and Drug Inspection District. In 1925 he became Assistant Chief of the Food and Drug Administration, then headed by Dr. C. A. Browne.

When FDA was established as a separate enforcement bureau in 1927, Campbell became Chief and Dunbar was appointed Assistant Chief. When Campbell received permission from the New Deal administration to propose legislative corrections to the outdated 1906 federal food and drug statute, it was Dunbar who convinced him to replace, rather than rewrite the original law. Following passage of the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Dunbar was named Assistant Commissioner of Food and Drugs. He was promoted to Associate Commissioner in 1942. Following Campbell's retirement in 1944, Dunbar was appointed Commissioner.

During World War II, Dunbar willingly assumed the task of testing drugs for the military. He declined, however, to ask for additional funds for war work, considering it a patriotic contribution owed to the country. Wartime economics also prevented the agency from achieving adequate civilian consumer protection. By the end of the war, FDA resources, already meager, lagged behind even further.

His tenure as commissioner included launching the era of the "miracle drugs." Sale of dangerous drugs without prescription became a major issue during his administration, and the problem was not resolved until the 1951 passage of the Durham-Humphrey amendment which defined drugs requiring a prescription. He was one of the first to predict the need for a narcotic-type control over drugs such as barbiturates and amphetamines, which became law in 1965. Discussions with Congressman Keefe (D-Wis.) resulted in the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the use of chemicals in foods, headed by Rep. James Delaney (D-NY). It was the amendments growing out of these hearings (Miller Amendment 1954; Food Additives Amendment 1958; Color Additives Amendment 1960) which at the time of his death provided for continuous testing of food and drugs in the Food and Drug Administration's laboratories. Dunbar remained a life-long member of the American Chemical Society, the Association of Food and Drug Officials of the United States, and Phi Beta Kappa.

In 1951, Dunbar retired at age 69 and received the Federal Security Agency's distinguished service award for "outstanding leadership in the constructive administration of food and drug laws." Oscar Ewing, his superior, called him the "indomitable champion of the American consumer." Dunbar died on August 22, 1968 at his home in Rockledge, Florida after a long illness.

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