Dr. Wiley's Introduction to His 1929 Book About Corruption in the FDA

FDA History Intro
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.”

   I suppose after the manner of those who steal the titles of other authors an 
apology should be made to Victor Hugo. The crime that he described was one 
purely political. It told the story of Louis Napoleon, who, having been elected 
President of the French Republic in 1848, following the model of his illustrious 
uncle, became Emperor of the French nation in 1852. Victor Hugo was one of the 
leaders against this movement and naturally became a persona non grata at Paris. 
With hundreds of others who had opposed this coup d'état he sought safety in 
Brussels. He arrived there on the 14th day of December, 1852, and began his 
"History of a Crime" on that very day. It was completed by May 5, 1853. He did 
not publish it for twenty-five years afterward.
   It has been only twenty-one years since the crime about to be described was 
committed. Perhaps it would be the part of wisdom if its history, still 
unpublished, be withheld for another six years. The everthreatening thought of 
Anno Domini warns that it is not likely that I may still be on this planet after 
the lapse of six years. This fact should absolve me from any blame for a 
somewhat premature publication. The theft of his title is not likely to disturb 
the ashes of Victor Hugo in the Pantheon, to which they were committed by five 
hundred thousand of his fellow citizens in the summer of 1885, three months 
after his eighty-third birthday.
   Presumably a similar lese majesté might be charged against the author of this 
story. Probably the truths which are told in the following pages, and a 
Government less violently set up than that of Napoleon III, will be a safeguard 
against expatriation. It is advisable and even desirable, while the memories of 
this crime are still fresh, to set down in simple language a recital thereof. 
There are many embarrassments in connection with writing a story of this kind 
which usually would deter or prevent the completion of the work. Many of the 
authors and participators in this crime have already joined the great majority 
and entered upon the Great Adventure. I am not unmindful of the excellent adage, 
nil de mortuis nisi bonum. I will not impute any base motives to those who are 
no longer here to defend themselves. It is far better to take the safe course. 
That is to assume that the crimes committed against the Food and Drugs Act were 
due to errors of judgment and not to any set purpose to destroy the salutary 
provisions of this law. While in the recital of these crimes, in spite of a 
purpose to the contrary, there may be found at times language which would 
indicate that the actors were not simply ignorant, it must be attributed to. the 
zeal for proper enforcement of the food law which leads to a recital of these 
facts, rather than to a purpose of. misjudging the motives of the actors 
   Twenty years have passed since these offenses against the law began. There 
are two reasons why I have waited so long before setting down in order this 
history. The principal one is that my time was all consumed with my efforts 
toward improving the nutrition, and consequently the health of the nation. The 
need of better nutrition is shown in an address opposing the repeal of the mixed 
flour law quoted further on. This was an indictment of the severest kind of the 
methods of up-bringing our youth. The deplorable condition of our young men was 
vividly shown in the Great War. Fully one-third of those called to the colors 
were found to be physically and mentally unfit to serve their country in its 
hour of need. Another third could only attend to camp and hospital tasks. Only 
one-third could go into. the trenches and serve their country on the field of 
   It was a matter of supreme importance to endeavor in all honorable ways to 
remove the possibility of a similar stigma which might arise from any future 
crises of the republic. To instruct young persons to be parents, to teach them 
how to bring up their children after they are born, and to eliminate such a 
percentage of unfit are problems which require careful study. Having now reached 
the age of eighty-four, I am forcibly reminded that if this history of a crime 
is ever to be written it must be done now, without undue delay.
   The second reason which has made, me hesitate is because of my high personal 
regard for those who are not shown as wholly devoted to the public service in 
the lapses of their conduct respecting the food and drugs legislation. It is 
always painful to say anything which could even be construed as derogatory to 
those who have been one's friends.
   It is the practice in criminal proceedings before the courts for the opposing 
counsel to lay before the court and the jury an outline of the points he expects 
to prove and the nature of the evidence which it is proposed to offer. It is 
advisable to set down briefly the important points in this history. First of all 
will be a recital of the efforts made over a period of twenty-five years to 
secure a national food. and drugs act. Attention is called to the indifference 
of the people at large in regard to the character of the foods and drugs which 
they used, and the efforts that were made to overcome this attitude. It was soon 
found that individual activities were practically useless in securing national 
legislation. Only mass action could produce any progressive results. The 
organized bodies of men and women who gradually became interested in this 
legislation will be pointed out. At the same time the character of the lobbies 
formed efficiently to block national legislation will be described. Particular 
attention will be called to the dominant features which always characterized 
this proposed legislation. There was very little discussion of the question of 
misbranding. The chief points discussed were the results of adding to our food 
products preservative substances to keep them from decay, and coloring matters 
which made them look more attractive and fresh. Brief citations from the 
evidence before the various committees in the House and the Senate will 
illustrate the magnitude of the struggle which finally resulted in the approval 
of the Food and Drugs Act on June 30, 1906.

   "Remember how long thou hast already put off these things, and how often a 
certaine day and houre as it were, having been set unto thee by the gods, thou 
hast neglected it. It is high time for thee to understand the true nature both 
of the world, whereof thou art a part; and of that Lord and Governour of the 
World, from whom, as a channell from the spring, thou thy selfe didst flow: And 
that there is but a certaine limit, of time appointed unto thee, which if thou 
shalt not make use of to calme and alay the many distempers of thy soule, it 
will passe away and thou with it, and never after returne."
  --From The Golden Book of Marcus Aurelius, published by J. M. Dent & Co., 
  Aldine House, London, W. C., Page 16.
   "Bare tabulation will not do; simple enumeration is plainly insufficient. 
There must be a hint of perspective. The historian must select, and in the 
awkward process of selection he becomes an artist. One seems to see the 
historian at this uncomfortable stage desert the laboratory and furtively 
approach the studio. And why not? There is no need for him to blush when we 
detect him in the questionable company of artists. For history is an art as 
well,--the art of representing past events through facts of scientific accuracy. 
If the facts are inaccurate, it is not history. But if they are not embodied in 
a picture of a living past, it is not history either. For a smear on a palet is 
not a picture. So the historian, when his work among the test-tubes of research 
is done, must turn artist, abandoning his overalls for the velvet jacket. If he 
can not, so much the less historian he.
   "It is so easy for the historian to forget his duty in the multiplicity of 
his business. To put it crudely, he is asked to raise the dead, to bring the 
past to life, to give a continuous performance of the miracle of Endor. He must 
achieve this feat with a restricted armory. For he is not allowed the novelist's 
liberty of invention. His incantations are strictly limited to the ascertained 
facts, and with their aid alone he is expected to evoke the past. We ask of the 
historian a great tapestry, crowded with figures, filled with shifting lights 
and crowds and landscapes; and we insist sternly (though with perfect propriety) 
that he shall use no single thread for his weaving that can not be vouched for 
as to its color, length, and weight by reference to his unvarying authorities, 
the scientific facts. "
  --From "The Missing Muse," by Philip Guedalla, in The Forum for November, 
  1927, Page 666.


Andrew Saul, PhD

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