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  1. FDA Leadership: 1907 to Today

Walter G. Campbell

 Photo of Walter G. Campbell

Walter G. Campbell

7/16/1921 - 6/30/1924;
7/1/1927 - 4/30/1944

Walter G. Campbell was born in Knox County, Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky, where he received his B.A. in 1902. In 1906, he secured a law degree from the University of Louisville (1905) and began practicing law. He was retained by the Kentucky Experiment Station to help enforce that state's food and drug law. In 1907, Campbell took the first Civil Service examination for inspectors to enforce the federal Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. Wiley personally selected Campbell as the agency's Chief Inspector over others who scored higher on the analyst exam because he discerned Campbell's great skills as a leader. During the earliest days of enforcement under the new law, Campbell determined to take an action against rectified whiskey, which he deemed adulterated, and when the district attorney did not know how to proceed, Campbell prepared the first libel for seizure under the law. He also drafted the first inspectors' manual. Because Wiley was enmeshed in other controversies, Campbell was left to establish the Bureau's inspectional force on a sound basis. During the first decade and a half under the law, some sixty food products warranted special investigations, including milk, eggs, vinegar, oysters, olive oil, and tomato products. Many outrageous patent medicines were removed from the marketplace, and crises involving canned salmon and ripe olives contaminated with a toxin causing botulism were resolved.

Following Wiley's retirement, Campbell refused appointment as chief of the bureau, believing that a chemist should hold this post and arguing that law enforcement and chemical research did not belong in the same organization. When the district system was established in 1914 by Carl Alsberg, Campbell was appointed Chief of the Eastern District. Campbell developed a project system for handling regulatory work that enabled the Bureau to prioritize the many demands on its meager resources. Three years later, Campbell was asked to become Assistant Chief under Alsberg. Alsberg and Browne, primarily interested in scientific research, gave Campbell wide authority to direct enforcement operations. In 1927, when Browne moved to the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils, Campbell became Chief of the Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration. He also continued as director of regulatory work for the Department of Agriculture from 1923-1933. In 1930, the FDIA became the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in 1940 was transferred from Agriculture to the Federal Security Agency. Campbell then became Commissioner of Food and Drugs.

Campbell was considered a consummate administrator who "commanded the respect of all who knew him." Campbell recognized inadequacies in the 1906 law from the beginning of his career in the Bureau of Chemistry, and during the 1920s fought off many attempts to weaken it further. With the arrival of the New Deal, Campbell directed the strategy in the five year campaign for a more adequate statute, leading to the ultimate passage of the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Campbell's greatest disappointment in the new law was the provision granting jurisdiction over food and drug advertising and labeling to the Federal Trade Commission. Nonetheless, the new law was a vast improvement over the outdated Wiley Act, and as one observer expressed it, "Mr. Campbell was to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 what Dr. Wiley was to the 1906 law." He worked closely with Congress and was an especially effective committee witness, presenting convincing testimony that finally resulted in a better consumer protection law.

Campbell devised enforcement plans under the new law and trained the three commissioners who followed him. Upon announcing his retirement, Business Week noted that Campbell's greatest achievement seemed to be "the amount of public protection he could squeeze out of the small appropriations which Congress gave him." Agency appropriations had stalled at about two million dollars annually. Although Campbell himself retired in 1944, it can be said with accuracy that it was Campbell's concepts which governed federal regulation under food and drug statutes from 1906 to 1966.

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