Human Experiments Prove Food Preservatives Harmful to Health

FDA History 02
by Harvey W. Wiley, M.D., the very first commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), then known as the “US Bureau of Chemistry.”

Vulnuratus, non victus.--Proverb

   Confucius says:
     "The commander of the forces of a large state may be carried off, but the 
  will of even a common man can not be taken from him." 
   In the foregoing pages attention was called to the experiments making on 
healthy young men to determine the influence of preservatives and coloring 
matters on health and digestion. The general method of conducting these 
investigations was discussed. Altogether nearly five years were devoted to these 
experimental determinations, beginning in 1902 and lasting until 1907.
   The total number of substances studied was seven, namely, boric acid and 
borax, salicylic acid and salicylates, benzoic acid and benzoates, sulphur 
dioxide and sulphites, formaldehyde, sulphate of copper, and saltpeter.
   Reports of these investigations were published, with the exception of 
sulphate of copper and saltpeter, which were denied publication. In 1908 further 
investigations of this kind were allotted to the Remsen Board whose activities 
will be described in the following pages. The Bureau of Chemistry was 
"grievously wounded but not conquerered" by this transfer of its activities.
   Anyone who has observed the occurrence of tornados, cyclones, and thunder 
storms, especially in the spring, has noticed their tendency to occur in groups. 
This is especially true of any particular locality and generally of those parts 
of our country in which these visitations, often destructive to life and 
property, are common. The storms which threatened the integrity of the food law 
were of this kind. They were different, however, from the caprices of the 
weather in the time of the year they occurred. The most threatening of them 
arose, not in the spring, but in the winter of 1907. The transfer of authority 
to execute the law from the Bureau of Chemistry to the Board of Food and Drug 
Inspection, and from that Board to the Solicitor, was a very good introduction 
to what occurred soon after January 1st, 1907. Even after the Bureau of 
Chemistry was deprived of its power of autonomy, it still retained intact its 
function of judging what was a threat to health.
   Prior to the enactment of the food and drugs law it was evident from the 
increase in popular interest in this matter that the enlistment of organized 
bodies of men and women interested in securing this legislation would sooner or 
later become effective. It was considered the part of wisdom to prepare for this 
much wished-for consummation. Numerous attempts had been made before the 
Congress of the United States to change the wording of the proposed bill in such 
a way as to eliminate the Bureau of Chemistry as the active executive 
organization of the law when passed. All of these attempts had been almost 
unanimously negatived by the Congress as often as they were offered. It seemed, 
therefore, quite certain that when the law finally was secured the Bureau of 
Chemistry would be retained as its executive agent. As early as 1902 authority 
was obtained from Congress to carry on feeding experiments on healthy young men. 
The language of the law follows:
     "To enable the Secretary of Agriculture to investigate the character of 
  food preservatives, coloring matters, and other substances added to foods, to 
  determine their relation to digestion and to health, and to establish the 
  principles which should guide their use." 
   The object was to see if the preservatives and coloring matters added to 
foods would have any effect upon the digestion and health of these young men. 
Young men as a rule are more resistant to effects of this kind than children or 
older persons. They represent the maximum of resistance to deleterious foods. 
The deduction from this theory is that if the young men thus selected showed 
signs of injury other citizens of the country less resistant would be more 
seriously injured. Having received authority from Congress to proceed in this 
matter, a small kitchen and dining room were provided in the basement of the 
Bureau and a call issued for volunteers to join this experimental class. We 
asked chiefly employees of the Bureau. We had no difficulty in securing twelve 
healthy young men who volunteered their services and took an oath to obey all 
rules and regulations which should be prescribed for the experimental dining 
table. Their term of enlistment was made for one year. Up to this time no such 
extensive experiment on human beings had been planned anywhere in the world. It 
was not necessary to ask any publicity to this matter. It was a problem which 
interested not only newspaper reporters and editors, but the public at large. 
One reporter who was most constant in his attendance, and this was the beginning 
of his reportorial work, had the happy faculty of presenting the progress of the 
experiment in terms which appealed to the public imagination. He early 
designated this band of devoted young men as "The Poison Squad." There was 
rarely a day in which he did not visit the experimental table and write some 
interesting item in regard thereto. This cub reporter is now the celebrated 
author of the "Post-Scripts" in the Washington Post, George Rothwell Brown.

The Dining Room of "The Poison Squad"

   For five years these experiments continued and investigations of an extensive 
character were carried on with the preservatives which were in most common use. 
The chemical and physiological data accumulated were vast in extent and 
presented great difficulties in interpretation. Following the rule adopted by 
the Bureau, every doubtful problem was resolved in favor of the American 
consumer. This appeared the only safe ethical ground to occupy. Decisions 
against the manufacturers who used these bodies could be reviewed in the courts 
when the food law became established, whereas if these doubtful problems had 
been resolved in favor of the manufacturers the consumer would have had no 
redress. Without going into further detail in regard to these experiments it may 
be said that one of the common colors and all the common preservatives used in 
foods were banned from use by a unanimous verdict against them.

   The greater part of these data was published as parts of Bulletin 84, Bureau 
of Chemistry. They comprise: Part I--Boric Acid and Borax; Part II--Salicylic 
Acid and Salicylates; Part III--Sulphurous Acid and Sulphites; Part IV-Benzoic 
Acid and Benzoates; Part V--Formaldehyde; Part VI--Sulphate of Copper; Part 
   When the data relating to benzoic acid were submitted, the Remsen Board had 
already been appointed. The Secretary, about to depart on vacation, sent for 
George W. Hill, Editor of the Department, and said:
     "Publish what you like during my absence except that the bulletin on 
  benzoic acid is not to go to the printer." 
   Mr. Hill misunderstood his instructions. He sent the benzoate bulletin to the 
public printer with instructions to hurry it through. When the Secretary 
returned the printing was finished. A reprint of it was promptly denied. The 
total number of pages in the parts of Bulletin 84 which have been published is 
   Vigorous protests from those engaged in adulterating and misbranding foods 
were made to the Secretary of Agriculture against any further publicity in this 
direction. As a result of these protests he refused publication of Parts VI and 
VII of Bulletin 84. Part VI contained a study of the effects on health and 
digestion of sulphate of copper added to our foods. The conclusions drawn by the 
Bureau were adverse to its use. The Remsen Board subsequently made a study of 
sulphate of copper and reached a like decision. The ban on copper was based on 
the work of the Remson Board and not on that of the Bureau, which preceded it by 
three years. During this interval the use of this deleterious product was 
   The seventh part treated of the use of saltpeter (sodium nitrite), particularly in meats. 
Owing to the well-known results of the depressing effects of saltpeter on the 
gonads, and for other reasons, the Bureau refused to approve the use of this 
coloring agent in cured meats. These two bulletins still repose in the morgue of 
the Department of Agriculture. They are not, however, deprived of companionship. 
In the testimony of the Secretary of Agriculture before the committee on 
expenditures in the Department of Agriculture (the Moss Committee), it is found 
that the following additional manuscripts prepared by the Bureau of Chemistry 
were refused publication, namely, Experiments Looking to Substitutes for Sulphur 
Dioxides in Drying Fruits, by W. D. Bigelow; Corn Sirup as a Synonym for 
Glucose, offered for publication in 1907; Sanitary Conditions of Canneries, 
Based on Results of Inspection, by A. W . Bitting, offered for publication in 
1908; Reprint of Part IV of Benzoic Acid and Benzoates, asked for in 1909; 
Medicated Soft Drinks, by L. F. Kebler, offered in 1909; Drug Legislation in the 
United States, by C. H. Greathouse, offered in 1909; Food Legislation to June 
30, 1909, offered in 1910; The Estimation of Glycerine in Meat Preparations, by 
C. F. Cook, offered in March, 1910; Technical Drug Studies, by L. F. Kebler, 
offered in 1910; Experiments on the Spoilage of Tomato Ketchup, by A. W. 
Bitting, offered in 1911; the Influence of Environment on the Sugar Content of 
Cantaloupes, by M. N. Straugh and C. G. Church, offered in May, 1911; A 
Bacteriological Study of Eggs in the Shell and of Frozen and Desiccated Eggs, by 
G. W. Stiles, May, 1911; The Arsenic Content of Shellac, offered June, 1911.
   All of these publications are in the morgue. They were objected to by parties 
using preservatives and coloring matters and articles adulterated with arsenic, 
and these protests against publication were approved and put in force by the 
Secretary of Agriculture. In other words, all the principles which animated the 
Inquisition were used by the Department of Agriculture to prevent any further 
dissemination of the studies and conclusions of the Bureau in regard to the 
wholesomeness of our foods. The whole power of the Department of Agriculture was 
enlisted in the service of adulteration which tended to destroy the health of 
the American consumer. On the appointment of the Remsen Board further 
investigations by the Bureau were ordered to be suspended.
   Further information regarding the activities of the Poison Squad were 
presented to the Committee of Interstate and Foreign Commerce during the final 
hearings on the Food and Drug Legislation. This information has the 
distinguishing tone of question and answer which adds much to its interest and 
value. Quotations from those hearings follow:
   DR. WILEY: Now, I want to introduce the borax bulletin in evidence; not to 
have it copied, but simply to have it as an exhibit, because all of you have 
copies in your desks. That will answer the question which was asked me yesterday 
about the kind of work done by these young men. You gentlemen need only to 
glance through this book of 477 pages to see the amount of labor that has been 
put upon this investigation.
   MR. TOWNSEND: When did you begin your investigation of boric acid?
   DR. WILEY: In the autumn of 1902.
   MR. TOWNSEND: How long were you experimenting on that?
   DR. WILEY: We were from the 1st of October to the 1st of the following July.
   MR. TOWNSEND: About nine months?
   DR. WILEY: Yes, sir.
   MR. TOWNSEND: How soon after that did you make a report?
   DR. WILEY: On the 25th of June, 1904; just about a year after the close of 
the investigation.
   MR. TOWNSEND: You did not publish it in 1903?
   DR. WILEY: We published a synopsis--a preliminary report--in 1903.
   MR. TOWNSEND: You said yesterday that you had not had time, as I remember it, 
or had not been able--I don't remember just exactly how you answered it--to 
report your investigation of benzoic acid, which had only occupied three months 
and which was completed in the fall, as I remember it, of 1902.
   DR. WILEY: On benzoic acid?
   MR. TOWNSEND: Yes; benzoic. acid.
   DR. WILEY: The benzoic-acid investigation was not begun until the spring of 
1904, and was completed before November, 1904.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Are you sure about that? As I took it down yesterday in a note, 
it was begun in the fall of 1902.
   DR. WILEY: Then you misunderstood me; it was not. I was referring to the time 
I commenced the first investigation.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Then I misunderstood you. Who assisted you in making those 
investigations on borax and benzoic acid?
   DR. WILEY: About twenty or twenty-five men besides the subjects.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Were any of them of national reputation as scientists?
   DR. WILEY: Dr. Bigelow, who is here, is a man of good reputation. He is the 
one who collaborated with me in, particular. The others are chemists in fair 
standing, but they are not men of great reputation in a personal way.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Connected with the Department?
   DR. WILEY: Connected with the Department of Agriculture here; yes, sir. I
will explain the method of investigation briefly, because I know you gentlemen 
do not care to read this voluminous document.
   The young men were selected mostly from the Department of Agriculture--I 
believe the first were all from the Department of Agriculture. They were young 
men who had passed the civil-service examinations, and therefore came to us with 
a good character, as is usual in such cases. These young men were volunteers. We 
explained to them fully the character of the work that we proposed to do, not 
particularly stating what we were going to give them, or how, but what our 
general purpose was, and that was to place in good wholesome foods certain 
quantities, which we were to select ourselves, of the ordinary preservatives and 
coloring matters used in foods, and to feed them on these foods with such 
materials in them.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Exclusively with those materials?
   DR. WILEY: Oh, no. I will explain, and you will understand how we did it. 
These men signed a pledge in which they agreed on their honor to carry out all 
the necessary regulations. They signed a pledge to eat nothing or drink nothing 
excepting what we gave them at the table. They signed a pledge to pursue their 
ordinary vocations without any excesses and to take their ordinary hours of 
sleep. They agreed that they would collect and present to us every particle of 
their secreta, so that none of it should be lost, and to follow out the rules 
and regulations necessary to carry out the conduct of the work.
   MR. ESCH: Did you require any physical examination?
   DR. WILEY: Yes, sir; we had a surgeon detailed from the Public Health 
Service, who examined all of these men physically and saw that they had no 
disease, and that they had had no disease within a year, or any sickness of any 
   MR. TOWNSEND: They were allowed to live at their homes?
   DR. WILEY: Yes, sir.
   MR. TOWNSEND: How did you collect their perspiration?
   DR. WILEY: Perspiration was not collected excepting in one case. We collected 
perspiration in one case to determine how much borax was exuded through the 
skin, but in no other.
   MR. BARTLETT: You had a release if they died?
   DR. WILEY: Yes, sir; from any injury that they might receive.
   That was their preliminary work. The first thing which we did was to 
ascertain, by their own choice largely, the character of good wholesome foods to 
be used, absolutely free of adulterants, a natural diet which would keep their 
bodies in a state of equilibrium so that, neither the question of added weight 
or of losing weight--that is to say, in a fore period, which was a period of 
about ten days, the body was weighed every day, the amount of food which they 
ate was weighed, and if they gained a little we cut it off, and if they lost a 
little we added a little to it--so that by the end of ten days we could get 
their normal ration. Meanwhile their excreta were collected and analyzed, so 
that we had a complete check on the normal metabolic process by which the food 
was utilized in the body and the refuse matter excreted. You will understand 
that the only excretions that we got were the urine and the feces. All of the 
others were so small in proportion to the whole mass that they were neglected; 
in fact, it is impossible to get them; no one has ever attempted it. Then we 
began by adding to the food one of the common preservatives--borax was first. We 
had twelve young men, and to six of them we gave borax in the form of boracic 
acid, and to the other six borate of soda, to see if there was any difference in 
the effect of those two forms of borax attending the metabolic process.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Did you explain that this was a dangerous process?
   DR. WILEY: We told them that they might receive some injury from it.
   MR. TOWNSEND: That is the reason you took a release?
   DR. WILEY: We certainly would not ask the young men to submit to it without 
an explanation. We told them, of course, that there was no danger by poisons, 
but that there might be some disturbance to their systems.
   MR. TOWNSEND: You thought that there was nothing; but you took a release 
because there was danger of losing life, in a sense.
   DR. WILEY: Yes, sir; we kept nothing from them at all.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Do you think that had any effect upon them?
   DR. WILEY: We discuss that in the book. That has been one of the objections 
urged against this work, and it would be urged against any work of the same 
   MR. CUSHMAN: Is that the bunch known to the public as the "poison squad"?
   DR. WILEY: That is the one. I suppose it was the most widely advertised 
boarding house in the world.
   Now, when we had established their normal diet, then they agreed to eat it 
every day whether they wanted it or not, because that was the important part of 
the experiment, that the food ingestion must be constant, otherwise you could 
not study the effect of the added substance on metabolism.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Do you explain the effect in your book?
   DR. WILEY: That is all explained in the greatest detail.
   Now, of course, they did that as long as their digestion was not impaired. 
When it did become impaired they were released at once from any further 
administration of the drug. That was all we wanted to do--to get the first 
effects, never any more. We did not carry it to any extreme. Once a man was 
undoubtedly affected he was released. You may ask how we knew how any 
disturbance produced was due to borax, and I answer because we eliminated all 
the variables but that one. in the case of the man who had led the same life, 
pursued the same vocation, eaten the same food, and who did the same things, the 
only variable was the preservative; so that if the variations are those which 
would be expected to be produced by such a variable, we logically traced the 
result of those variations to that one variable, and especially so if when we 
withdrew it the disturbance was removed. Then the symptoms which had ensued 
would be removed, and that was additional proof. Therefore as far as possible we 
ruled out every influence excepting the one which we were controlling. Then we 
had what we called "periods" of five days, so that we studied them in periods of 
five days. We called it the first preservative period, the second preservative 
period, and so on, until we had usually the preservative periods lasting for 
about twenty days. That was the usual rule. That was followed by a period in 
which nothing but pure food was given for ten days, the object being if possible 
to restore the man to the normal state. I will say very frankly that ten days as 
a rule was not long enough to do that; but as they then had a holiday and rested 
for some time, it didn't make so much difference to us.
   MR. TOWNSEND: What do you mean by a holiday?
   DR. WILEY: We kept our table going all the time, but when a man had worked 
for about forty days on these experiments we then allowed forty days' rest, the 
same time that we had been working on him.
   MR. BARTLETT: That is, you discontinued this character of food.
   DR. WILEY: We gave him then nothing but pure food. We did not have to measure 
his food or collect his excreta; and he simply rested and got ready for another 
   Now, in our first year's work we only fed six men at a time, so that we had 
constant observation--six men on holiday and six men on observation--but in 
subsequent investigations we found it much more convenient to feed all of the 
men at the same time and give them the holiday at the same time. That appears 
from the fact that the chemical work, so far as analysis of foods is concerned, 
is just as great for six men as it is for twelve, because we did not analyze 
each person's food, but the food which we gave all, so that we knew the 
composition of it. Therefore one analysis would do for a hundred men just as 
well as six. But the excreta that were turned in had to be analyzed 
separately--that is, every day, or the composite for a number of days, whichever 
seemed desirable.
   MR. TOWNSEND: When you examined that excreta: did you examine for any other 
substance besides boric acid or benzoic acid?
   DR. WILEY: In the digestion of food the process is of two kinds. We have what 
is called metabolized food and nonmetabolized food, which is found largely in 
the feces. Parts of the feces never enter the system at all; they are the refuse 
matter, and therefore we say that they are.nonmetabolized. We simply wanted to 
determine how much protein, how much fat, how much sugar, etc., had come out in 
the feces and had escaped digestion. Then we examined the urine, which contains 
the principal part of the degradation products of the metabolized food. When the 
food enters the system, after the process of digestion, it has two great 
functions, as you gentlemen know. One is to supply heat and energy. That food is 
all burned up and converted into water and carbon dioxide, just the same as you 
burn a piece of coal in the fire and convert it into carbon dioxide and into 
water. And the great mass of food which we eat is burned in the body and 
produces heat and energy. Of course the water and the carbon dioxide that come 
from the lungs and the skin we did not collect.
   Then the food which goes to build the tissues, or enters into the tissue, 
pushes out the degradation products in the same quantity when the body is in 
equilibrium, just as you fill a tube full of marbles, and when you put one 
marble in it you will push out another at the other end. Now, if I feed you on 
nitrogen to-day or to-morrow, when I go to determine the nitrogen in your urine 
I do not determine the nitrogen that you have eaten to-day or yesterday, but if 
your body is in equilibrium the amount of nitrogen pushed out is exactly what 
you push in. That is what we call the balance, and in that way we can determine 
whether any substance added to the food disturbs the metabolic process and 
interferes with digestion. And you can only determine it in that way. The amount 
of disturbance is so slight that you will never notice it and yet so pronounced 
that our chemical balance will reveal it.
   MR. BARTLETT: Doctor, I see in the bill of fare that you give here that some 
of the gentlemen took cranberries. What did you add to the cranberries, 
   DR. WILEY: No, sir; we took cranberries without anything. We did not add any 
benzoic acid to those. I say that we used the ordinary foods, a plain ration, so 
that each man would eat on the same day the same number of calories, the same 
amount of nitrogen, the same amount of phosphoric acid, the same amount of 
sulphur. We gave an excellent food, the very best of the retailed canned goods. 
I will say that nearly all of our vegetables are canned vegetables. That shows 
our attitude toward canned foods, which has been said to be very hostile. We 
used them because they are more uniform in character, and when put up by 
reputable firms are apt to be better than the vegetables that you can buy in the 
open market. Our canned foods were canned to order, so that all that we used 
during the year were exactly alike. And so important was that fact in the eyes 
of an enterprising advertiser that he went to one of the firms that sold us 
these goods--we didn't buy all from one firm--and wanted them to pay him 
hundreds of dollars to write articles saying that we were using his canned 
foods. Of course, we promptly refused to allow his name to be used.
   MR. LOVERING: Did these young men know when they were eating pure food or 
not, and in what proportion?
   DR. WILEY: They did not know what it was, necessarily, or how much. That was 
our business. All they knew was the fact that they were using something.
   MR. MANN: For a long time the daily papers published what they were being fed 
   DR. WILEY: You can not always rely upon newspaper accounts of scientific 
   MR. MANN: I suppose the young men read the accounts, and if you did not tell 
them exactly what they were being fed they might have thought they were being 
fed on something else.
   MR. RYAN: This so-called "poison squad" was selected from employees of the 
various departments.
   DR. WILEY: Almost altogether from the Department of Agriculture. We had a few 
from the other departments, however, and a few from a medical school.
   MR. RYAN: Did they receive additional compensation for entering into this?
   DR. WILEY: Not those that were in our Department. Those that came from the 
outside were paid $5 a month in addition to the other. We had to give them some 
compensation; they could not serve in the Department under other circumstances, 
because it was illegal. We gave them a mere nominal sum so as to make their 
employment legal. We would not take anybody who was not in the Department in 
some capacity.
   MR. BARTLETT: Did you use real butter or oleomargarine?
   DR. WILEY: The butter was made to order, and contained neither salt nor 
coloring matter--pure butter.
   MR. ESCH: How about milk?
   DR. WILDY: The milk came from dairies inspected by the District authorities 
and by myself.
   MR. ESCH: Did you at any time adulterate the milk?
   Dim. WILEY: We sometimes put the preservative we used in the milk.
   MR. BARTLETT: Formaldehyde?
   DR. WILEY: Formaldehyde we did constantly, and borax part of the time.
   MR. ESCH: How did the health of these men continue; have you any statistics 
on that?
   DR. WILEY: That is all here; everything is recorded in full.
   MR. CUSHMAN: Can you tell, in a general way, some of the symptoms, or would 
that be interrupting the effect of your remarks?
   DR. WILEY: If you would like a résumé of the borax matter, I will give that 
in a few words. I will take the experiment where we gave a minimum quantity, 
such as you would ordinarily get if you ate meat and butter containing one-half 
of 1 per cent of borax, in the ordinary quantities of meat and butter and other 
preserved foods which a healthy man would eat. With the ordinary quantities of 
butter and meat preserved with borax there would be consumed about 7-1/2 grains 
of borax per day by each individual; and so we fed that for sixty days in 
succession, beginning with the preliminary period of ten days, then following 
sixty days in which we gave the borax.
   MR. MANN: How much borax?
   DR. WILEY: Seven and one-half grains a day. That was given in two doses. Part 
of the time in one dose, and part of the time we divided it and gave 3-3/4 
grains at one time and 3-3/4 grains at another time.
   MR. TOWNSEND: How did you give it?
   DR. WILEY: In butter and in milk and in capsules. We tried all methods.
   MR. BARTLETT: Did you give any tomato catsup with any of these meats?
   DR. WILEY: I don't think we did.
   Now, I want to say this, because I regard it as important. For fifteen or 
twenty days, or even longer in some cases, no visible effects were produced in 
what you would call "symptoms. " The young men had normal appetites and 
performed their work without any discomfort, and had no complaints. After that 
time they began to eat their ration with some little discomfort. They were under 
obligation to do it, but they often said: "I wish you could let this go; I don't 
want it." Their appetites began to fail. At the end every one of their appetites 
was very badly affected, and some of them were unable any longer to eat the full 
amount. Of course we never required anything that was impossible. They developed 
persistent headaches in most cases, followed by general depression and debility. 
It was extremely well marked in every instance.
   MR. KENNEDY: Did they get nauseated and want to refuse the food with the 
preservative in?
   DR. WILEY: They were occasionally nauseated. We had every variety of food 
that anybody commonly eats. We varied their menu every day.
   MR. KENNEDY: Did the boys seem to get tired of it; did they want to refuse 
the food?
   DR. WILEY: That is the reason we had to resort to capsules, because the very 
moment he found it in the milk or in the butter he didn't want to use the 
butter. I would say that this is all set out in here. We were led to the use of 
capsules because of the objections to which you refer. It may be all wrong, but 
that, of course, is a matter for you gentlemen to decide.
   MR. ADA MSON: When they took the food, did it have some effect on the 
   DR. WILEY: It had a worse effect in the food when they knew it was in the 
food, because it became repugnant to them.
   MR. KENNEDY: Don't you think this repugnance is nature's own method of 
correcting these things I I remember that out in our town two fellows made a 
wager with another fellow that he could not eat a quail a day for thirty days in 
succession. He did it, but it made him sick. That was because there was nothing 
wrong with the quail, but he was taking it too consistently.
   DR. WILEY: There is a great difference between a quail and borax; the latter 
is a drug.
   MR. KENNEDY: A man's life was imperiled by his trying to win that bet; he 
became very sick.
   DR. WILEY: I will answer that by saying that it is the universal experience 
of physicians that the drug habit grows; the more drug you take the more you 
need to produce the effect, and the less its effect; so that it is just the 
opposite to the effect that you mention.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Did you try the same experiment with benzoic acid?
   DR. WILEY: Not for so long a time, but a shorter length of time.
   MR. TOWNSEND: But on the same plan?
   DR. WILEY: The same plan. That will be fully brought out in the publication.
   MR. WANGER: Was there, at the end of the period of the administration of 
these preservatives, an immediate relief and restoration of the appetite, or was 
that a slow process?
   DR. WILEY: Unfortunately the effects in some cases were very much prolonged. 
Some of the young men--the experiments ended in July, or in June, the end of the 
year--and some of the young men complained even through the summer, and it was 
late in the autumn before they recovered their full normal appetites.
   MR. WANGER: That would furnish a strong presumption that it was not the 
mental idea connected with the daily use of the preservatives that caused the 
loss of appetite.
   DR. WILEY: It might be that the mental attitude was a strong factor, but when 
you get used to a thing after three or four days the mental attitude becomes 
less important. And I got a beautiful illustration of that in our own 
investigation, because I realized that a very reasonable objection is made 
against experiments of this kind, against all pharmacological experiments, by 
reason of the mental attitude of the patient, and I give full credit to the 
objection in the book, which you will see. I discuss that fully and frankly, and 
give value to the objections.
   But this strange thing happened when we came to salicylic acid. We had an 
almost new set of young men. We had a few that had come over from the borax 
period, but one year of this kind of life is as much as a young man wants. They 
enlisted for a year. So we had a new list. They must have had the same attitude 
toward salicylic acid that the first set had toward borax, and yet when we began 
to feed them salicylic acid there was an immediate improvement in the appetite; 
most of the young men seemed better, wanted more to eat, and it had exactly the 
opposite effect that borax had. Now, if it had been mental attitude in both 
cases the effect upon these men would have been the same. But we had the 
opposite effect. So I think that is the most happy proof. It came instantly, 
unexpectedly; we were not looking for it. The effect of the mental attitude, 
which must be considered, does not have the great importance that has been 
ascribed to it.
   MR. TOWNSEND: These men made releases?
   DR. WILEY: Yes, sir.
   MR. TOWNSEND: How do you explain the effect of a drug--the fact that the 
constant use of it inures a person to it?
   DR. WILEY: I think that is easily explained. As you get used to the effect of 
a drug you never improve in health. The man who forms the opium habit takes more 
and more of the drug, but his health goes down all the time. You can tolerate 
more of the drug, but your health is going all the time, and it takes more of 
the drug to produce a given effect.
   MR. MANN: You say that in the experiments with borax the effects continued 
some time after the feeding of the borax to the young men, so that there is a 
cumulative effect of borax upon the system?
   DR. WILEY: I referred to that yesterday, and I will restate it. Professor 
Rost, of the imperial board of health of Berlin, whose work I have here, 
criticized our work because we said that practically all of the borax was 
eradicated from the body after ten days. He contends that a lot of it remains in 
there for a longer time and comes out in the waste material a little at a time 
for weeks and months, so that his testimony is very much more in favor of the 
cumulative effects of those substances than our own.
   MR. TOWNSEND: Have you tested for that?
   DR. WILEY: We have made some tests on that during this last winter, but I 
have not as yet collated and studied the data.
   MR. MANN: Does your report show that in your opinion the use of borax has a 
deleterious effect upon the organs of the body?
   DR. WILEY: Of course you understand, Mr. Mann, the tests that we have made 
are not the same as those made upon animals fed for pharmacological experiments, 
because after a given time the animals are killed and their organs are examined, 
and the changes in the cells are studied by the microscope. We were precluded 
from doing that.
   MR. MANN: Is that your conclusion?
   DR. WILEY: My conclusion is that the cells must have been injured, but I had 
no demonstration of it, because I could not kill the young men and examine the 
   MR. MANN: Your judgment was that the borax was excreted from the body; it did 
not remain, but that the effects did remain? How else could the effect remain 
excepting in some way affecting the organs of the body?
   DR. WILEY: I think it must have affected the organs of the body. I think that 
is conclusive proof of it.
   MR. ADAMSON: Is the process of resolving these foods into their original 
elements so difficult that scientists cannot furnish the people any practical 
method of safely separating preservatives from food when they get ready to use 
   DR. WILEY: It is quite impractical to separate the whole of any preservatives 
from food, though it probably can be done.
   MR. MANN: Does it make any difference how borax is administered, whether 
administered by itself or administered in connection with foods, and is there a 
difference in the effect between the administration of a preservative in milk or 
in some kind of solid food, for instance?
   DR. WILEY: The ideal way to administer substances of this kind would be in 
solution in the food. But that has such practical difficulties that in almost 
all pharmacological experiments like these which have been performed by the 
thousand in the world, the method which we finally adopted as the best has been 
adopted--that is, the introduction of the substance into the stomach in the form 
of capsules, where nature quickly mixes it entirely up with the contents of the 
   MR. MANN: Do not some scientists think that there is a difference in effect 
whether it is administered in one food or another?
   DR. WILEY: That is the objection I have seen in scientific publications and 
in the public press urged against our work by Mr. H. H. Langdon, who has written 
a great many letters condemnatory of the work. Mr. Langdon, as I have learned, 
is employed by the borax company to do this work. He has called attention to 
that point in the public press.
   Many poetic descriptions of the poison squad were published, among the best 
of which are the following by S. W. Gillilan and Lew Dockstader:

(Respectfully Dedicated to the Department of Agriculture)
  0 we're the merriest herd of hulks
     that ever the world has seen;
  We don't shy off from your rough
     on rats or even from Paris green:
  We're on the hunt for a toxic dope
     That's certain to kill, sans fail.
  But 'tis a tricky, elusive thing and
     knows we are on its trail;
  For all the things that could kill
     we've downed in many a gruesome wad,
  And still we're gaining a pound a day,
     for we are the Pizen Squad.
  On Prussic acid we break our fast; 
     we lunch on a morphine stew;
  We dine with a matchhead consomme, 
     drink carbolic acid brew;
  Corrosive sublimate tones us up 
     like laudanum. ketchup rare,
  While tyro-toxicon condiments 
     are wholesome as mountain air.
  Thus all the "deadlies" we double-dare 
     to put us beneath the sod;
  We're death-immunes and we're proud as proud--
     Hooray for the Pizen Squad!

As Sung by Lew Dockstader--
in His Minstrel Company
Washington, D. C., week of October 4, 1903
  If ever you should visit the Smithsonian Institute,
  Look out that Professor Wiley doesn't make you a recruit.
  He's got a lot of fellows there that tell him how they feel,
  They take a batch of poison every time they eat a meal.
  For breakfast they get cyanide of liver, coffin shaped,
  For dinner, undertaker's pie, all trimmed with crepe;
  For supper, arsenic fritters, fried in appetizing shade,
  And late at night they get a prussic acid lemonade.
  They may get over it, but they'll never look the same.
  That kind of a bill of fare would drive most men insane.
  Next week he'll give them moth balls, 
     a LA Newburgh, or else plain.
  They may get over it, but they'll never look the same.


Dr. Andrew Saul

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