Period 1

The Problem(s)

  • At the turn of the century, the food and drug industry was not regulated by the government. Americans had been worried for years about the purity of their food and drugs. There was concern over the dyes and preservatives used in food. **Patent medicines** were medical compounds that promised to cure all sorts of diseases, but didn't state the ingredients of the mixture. Medicines were advertised to cure every disease or ailment under the sun.
  • A few journalists played an important role in exposing the truth. Samuel Hopkins Adams described the fraud of patent medicines in an article called "The Great American Fraud", and E.K. Kemble described similar fraud in "Death's Laboratory"
  • The beef insudtry was run by the beef trust, and they charged high prices for their product.
  • The most important muckraking work was __//**The Jungle**//__ by Upton Sinclair.The book was really about the troubles of workers at a Chicago meatpacking plant. The public, however, read about the horrible conditions of meat packing, inclusing careless meat inspectors, poisonous ingredients in canned meat, and stories of human limbs and rat excrement being mixed in with canned meat. The book sold almost a million copies, appalled the public, and led to a drop in the sale of meat.
  • Many people began to support legislation that would regulate the food and drug insutry and clean up the meat industry. President Roosevelt agreed, and pushed for legislation in Congress. ----

The Solution(s)

  • Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. The law prohibits interstate commerce of impure or misbranded products. It also required prescriptions from licensed physicians before a patient could purchase certain drugs and the requirement of label warnings on habit-forming drugs. Cmpanies could be fined or people imprisoned if adulterated or misbranded drugs were found in the marketplace.
  • The **Food and Drug Administration** was created to enforce the law and make sure that the food, drugs, cosmetics, and other products created in the United States are not hazardous. The organization would also test the drugs
  • Congress also passed the Federal **Meat Inspection Act** in 1906, improving working conditions and hygiene in meat packing plants and requiring meat to be inspected before and after slaughter.
  • The food and drug companies saw an increase in consumer confidence and a rise in business. The meat industry also saw sales rise ... but the big companies had to give up some freedom to Washington.

The Images

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Meat inspectors split the backbones and conduct a final inspection of hogs at the Swift & Company packing house in Chicago, ca. 1900.
The Poison Squad" was a group of human volunteers that tasted food and drugs to determine the effect they had on human health. Yup - volunteers!
external image poisn.sqd.jpg

The Primary Sources

"There was never the least bit attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white - it would be dosed with borax and glycerin, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had trampled and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread and meat would go into the hoppers together." - Excerpt from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle

"Meat scraps were also found being shoveled into receptacles from dirty floors, where they were left to lie until again shoveled into barrels or into machines for chopping. These floors, it must be noted, were in most cases damp and soggy, in dark, ill-ventilated rooms, and the employees in utter ignorance of cleanliness or danger to health expectorated at will upon them. In a word, we saw meat shoveled from filthy wooden floors, piled on tables rarely washed, pushed from room to room in rotten box carts, in all of which processes it was in the way of gathering dirt, splinters, floor filth, and the expectoration of tuberculous and other diseased workers" - Government Report on Meat-packing Plants (1906)

An Act for preventing the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs, medicines, and liquors, and for regulating traffic therein, and for other purposes. - introduction to the Pure Food and Drug Act, passed on June 30, 1906

The Citations