"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 in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
|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.|