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Topics in Chronicling America - Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

"Oh, here's to good old germs, Drink 'em down!," goes a toast published in the December 6, 1903 St. Louis Republic. Over a century ago, twelve government-sponsored volunteers, dubbed "the Poison Squad," recite this toast before consuming food laced with toxic additives such as borax and salicylic acid. Scientific experiments on food using human guinea pigs eventually resulted in the signing of the Pure Food & Drug Act in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Read more about it!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection ( Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.


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Important Dates:

  • 1898-1899. Soldiers in the Spanish-American War die from eating badly-preserved meat or “embalmed beef.” Two generals later testify before Congress about the scandal.
  • November 1901. Children in St. Louis and Camden die from tainted vaccines.
  • 1902-1906. A group of twelve volunteers, nicknamed the “poison squad,” agree to eat food laced with common preservatives of the time, such as formaldehyde. The study is administered by Dr. Harvey Wiley, who is considered the father of the Food and Drug Act.
  • February 1906. Upton Sinclair publishes The Jungle, an expose of the meatpacking industry.
  • June 30, 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt signs the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as the Meat Inspection Act.

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] Dr. Wiley, pure food, adulterant.
  • To narrow search results, search between 1898 and 1906.
  • To find articles relating to specific events, include additional terms in Search. Ex. Embalmed Beef, Vaccine or Serum, St. Louis, Camden, Poison Squad, Beef Trust, Upton Sinclair.

Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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  May 2, 2013
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