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The Toadstool Millionaires:
A Social History of Patent Medicines
in America before Federal Regulation

Chapter 14: Dr. Wiley's Law

James Harvey Young, PhD

"We may extend our lines as a country; we may build battle ships and navies and constitute great armies; but if the health of the people is to be undermined by these concoctions of fraudulent and bogus medicines, of what avail is it?"

-- Weldon B. Heyburn in the Senate, 1904 [1]

Members of the Proprietary Association of America, assembled in Boston for their annual meeting in September 1903, heard from the Committee on Legislation an ominous report. "At the recent Congress of Physicians and Surgeons held at the National Capital," the Committee stated, "an agitation was begun by Prof. Wiley. . . ." The chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture was not content with a national food and drug bill which limited the definition of drugs to those recognized in the United States Pharmacopoeia. He wanted to broaden the definition "to make it cover every kind of medicine for external or internal use," and he demanded "stringent legislation as regards proprietary medicines especially." No remedy should be sold, Dr. Wiley insisted, which did not have its formula printed on the label. No remedy containing alcohol or cocaine should be sold, he said, except by doctor's prescription [2].

"Such a law," the Committee on Legislation advised their colleagues, "would practically destroy the sale of proprietary remedies in the United States."

For more than twenty years, efforts to secure a comprehensive national food and drug law had been made by members of the Congress. The first measure was introduced in 1879, two years before the Proprietary Association was organized. Neither this bill nor its many successors caused the makers of packaged remedies grave concern. There was one flurry of excitement when, during a period of widespread agrarian unrest, the Paddock bill passed the Senate in March of 1892. This measure defined drugs in a sweeping fashion, comprehending "all medicines for internal or external use." Any drug not in the Pharmacopoeia was to be considered adulterated if it fell below "the professed standard under which it was sold." This really meant that no medicine maker could say on his label that ingredients were present if in fact they were not, nor could he state that the remedy was made of certain listed substances and then leave actual ingredients off the list. But the proposed law did not require the proprietor to do anything. If he chose to say nothing at all on the label about ingredients, that was his privilege. There was a clause specifically protecting medicine proprietors from any disclosure of their formulas [3].

Medicine makers professed no worry about Paddock's proposal, but they called it unconstitutional, unenforceable, and a tempta-tion to bribery. "If the business [of manufacturing remedies] was an underhanded one," Charles Fletcher, who made Castoria, told a reporter, "or if in the preparation of these articles injurious substances were used, or if there were anything in the nature of fraud in respect to a large proportion of the well-known pro-prietary articles, there might be some excuse for special legisla-tion against the manufacturers. No such excuse now exists." As for the few scamps in the business, Fletcher knew what they would do: "I can very well conceive that some one having an article containing more or less opium would feel that he was in danger if the public knew of it, and with a pliable public official it would be easily possible for him to keep this damaging fact from public knowledge." [4]

No such test of the pliability of Professor Wiley's staff oc-curred, because the Paddock bill did not come to a vote in the House of Representatives. Nor for another decade did a major food and drug proposal pass either the Senate or the House. Toward lesser threats, the proprietors remained alert. When a draft bill to control food and drugs in the District of Columbia contained an anti-patent medicine provision, the Secretary of Agriculture wrote a Senate Committee that the "active opposition" of the medicine makers was so strong, "The whole bill would probably be defeated with this clause left in." A proposal to keep advertising of "noxious medicines" from going through the mails came to naught, as did an attempt to set up a board of "medical experts" to fix standards for proprietary remedies. On the national level, however, there were few such potentially damaging blows aimed at the patent medicine industry. It was in the states that the Committee on Legislation of the Proprietary Association found its major work to do.

Formula disclosure bills were the main bugaboo. Pushed by physicians and pharmacists, they appeared on state legislative dockets during the 1880's. But the Committee maneuvered so shrewdly that the proposals did not become laws. When Missouri pharmacists made the effort, "it brought down on us," said one of their number, "all the patent medicine men in the State like a flock of wild pigeons." A decline in the number of such bills in 1896 gave the medicine makers hope that their opponents, so often vanquished, had well-nigh quit the field. The joy was premature. The next year the Committee had to confess that "the crop of bills that have swept over the country during the past year has been like unto the locusts that spread over Egypt." They too were crushed, as was the next plague and the next. These victories were won, the Committee told the Association, without spending a cent for bribery or for professional lobbyists. Much of the fighting was done hand-in-hand with newspaper publishers, to whom, in 1899, a vote of thanks was formally rendered by the Proprietary Association. No public reference was made, of course, to the potent "red clause" in advertising contracts [6].

Despite the victories, it was apparent to medicine manufacturers that rough sledding lay ahead. While rejoicing in their triumphs, the Proprietary Association in 1899 recognized that the time for concessions was near at hand. "The demand for Pure Food laws is growing every year," the Committee on Legislation told the membership, "and, sooner or later, in all of the States such laws are likely to be enacted .... Some form of bill should be agreed upon by the members of this Association and the druggists generally. It should be such a bill as will command the support of reasonable men, so that if vicious and ill-considered measures are proposed it can be successfully urged as a substitute." It should not be a bill like the one the North Dakota state chemist, Edwin F. Ladd, was soon to persuade his legislature to pass, a measure so severe that proprietary manufacturers set out to boycott the whole state [7].

Increasingly beleaguered in the states, the medicine men sensed a vast new danger in Harvey Washington Wiley's 1903 pronouncement. For Wiley had developed into the single most powerful figure in the fight to secure a national food and drug law. If he was now insistent that such a law cover proprietary remedies, then the industry had indeed found a foeman worthy of their steel.

Up to this point, the parts of the proposed law which had received Wiley's vigorous attention had concerned food. Raised on a farm in southern Indiana, he had grown up eating whole wheat flour and unbolted corn meal. He had harvested the first sorghum cane and extracted the first syrup in his region. Late starting in his schooling, Wiley pursued it with intensity and variety. His study of the classics at nearby Hanover College was interrupted by a stint as corporal in the Civil War. He then read medicine briefly with a Kentucky doctor, going on to Indianapolis to receive his degree from the Indiana Medical College. Simultaneously he taught Latin and Greek at Northwestern Christian University. Dr. Wiley never practiced as a physician; it was the nutritional side of health that really intrigued him. After some months at Harvard -- where he added a B.S. to his M.D. -- Wiley taught chemistry at his medical alma mater before accepting, in 1874, the chair in chemistry at the newly opened Purdue. At the same time he became state chemist of Indiana. Better to equip himself for his double task, Wiley went to the heartland of food chemistry. He visited professors at German universities and spent some time at the Imperial Health Office, strengthening his passion for food analysis and his antipathy to adulteration. Back home again, Wiley put his enhanced techniques to work, at the request of the state Board of Health, to reveal the extent to which sugars and syrups sold in Indiana were adulterated with glucose [8].

In 1883 Dr. Wiley was called to Washington as chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture. He took with him his passions and his skills. Enlarging upon the modest studies of adulterated tea and sausage initiated by his predecessor, Wiley launched the famous Bulletin 13. Through ten parts and 1,400 pages issued over a span of sixteen years, this Bulletin revealed the precise ways in which almost every article of food and drink which reached the family dinner table could be modified by "creative" chemistry. Congress, although it was not seriously interested in enacting legislation to curb abuses, was at least agreed in wanting Wiley's work of exposure to go on. In the first appropriation bill for the Department of Agriculture as an executive department, money was provided to "extend and continue" the study of adulteration. Year by year this authorization was repeated, and in 1894 Congress asked the Secretary of Agriculture to report the results of departmental analyses citing the brand names of products [9].

Five years later Congress -- or, at least, one Senator -- took another important step. In the years since the Paddock bill, as Wiley later put it, "Pure food bills in the Senate had been regularly committed to the Committee on Manufactures, much as an infant would be left to starve in a barren room." In 1899 a new man on the committee, William E. Mason of Illinois, instigated the first hearings which either House of Congress had held on the pure food question. Throughout nearly a year, Mason's commit-tee took testimony for fifty-one days in three cities from 196 witnesses. Wiley was not only the first witness. He was scientific adviser to the committee, he analyzed 438 food samples submitted to him, and he drafted the bill which Mason introduced into the Senate. "I think if there is any one man in this country," Mason told his colleagues, "who deserves great credit for trying to furnish the facts for the benefit of the people of this country," that man is Harvey Washington Wiley" [10]

Mason's bill got nowhere, but as the 20th century opened, the hopes of pure food advocates were brightening. Wiley's bulletins and similar attacks upon adulteration by state chemists were having a cumulative effect. Newspaper reports of the Senate hearings aroused public interest. The major segments of the industries which might be controlled by a national law were joining with federal and state officials, and with representatives from organizations as diverse as the American Chemical Society and the WCTU, in National Pure Food and Drug Congresses, seek-ing to draft a proposed bill that might be mutually agreeable [11]. The temper of the times was changing. To protect the national health by a broad-gauge national law seemed less a violation of the Constitution than it once had seemed. Especially after ebullient Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency, moving the Progressive spirit into the White House, did pure food reformers begin to take cheer.

Wiley increased the pace of his activity. Raised in an evangelical home, the chief chemist applied his moral fervor to the pure food crusade. The science of his bulletins was buttressed by the passion of his oratory. Like an itinerant preacher, he stumped up and down the country, and every woman's club rostrum was a pulpit. His message was not primarily one of fear, for he did not believe that adulteration posed a grave danger to the public health. But his sense of righteousness was offended by fraud, and he inveighed against adulterators as economic cheats. When God's bounty was tampered with, the label at least should say so [12].

"Dr. Wiley is built on large lines," a journalist wrote of him. "He is tall and massive of stature, with a big head firmly poised above a pair of titanic shoulders. His hair never stays in order, but masses itself forward on both sides of the forehead, giving him at times a somewhat uncouth appearance. The penetrating glance of his rather small eyes, the large and roughly modeled nose, and the severe lines of his mouth add to this impression." Wiley had a light touch and a warm heart. His wit was the talk of the banquet circuit, and he had a gift for clever doggerel. A bachelor, he was free to move about, and he was an ardent club-man, an eager dinner guest. Wiley had the knack of eliciting tremendous loyalty, and his personal associations, tending toward the conspiratorial, were to be as important as his public speaking in the ultimate success of a pure food bill. Endowed with tremendous energy, he could operate without tiring on several fronts at once [13].

Wiley had a flair for the dramatic and was something of an innovator. At Purdue he had been officially reprimanded for riding a bicycle on campus, and in Washington he was the third man to drive a car, the first to suffer a collision. He could turn a Congressional hearing into high drama by whipping out three bottles of pure Georgia cane syrup which he had seen made, so that he could personally testify they contained no salicylic acid, no glucose. Even Wiley's research could be theatrical. In 1902 he set up an experiment designed to test the effect of various preservatives upon the health of twelve robust young men who worked in the Department of Agriculture. Long before any results were in, the whole nation knew about and worried over the fate of the "Poison Squad." [14]

Congress reacted to the developing pressures. During 1902 both the Senate and the House held hearings on food and drug bills, and in both 'hearings the chief chemist was a star performer. In December the House bill passed, but Porter J. McCumber of North Dakota strove in vain, during the dying days of the session, to bring the Senate measure from committee to the floor. "I can now see no possible way to get consideration for it," he asserted, "and yet I do not believe there is any bill in which the public is more interested . . . . It seems to me we ought to have, in the course of two years, one hour or two hours in which to consider a bill that has been the first one on the Calendar." [15]

The pressure of many interests had been brought upon Senators to produce this stalemate. Some patent medicine makers viewed any pure food and drug measure with jaundiced eye, but the abortive bill would not have placed their own products in immediate jeopardy. The bill that had passed the House, in accord with the recommendation of the Pure Food and Drug Congresses, limited the coverage of drugs to those in the Pharmacopoeia. Upon this definition the Proprietary Association, which was represented in the Congresses, could lay its blessing. 16 The medicine men, indeed, had faired most fortunately thus far amid the quickening of interest in legislation by some members of Congress. Food and liquor had held the center of the stage. During several protracted hearings and some debate in both Houses, the references to patent medicines could be numbered on the fingers of one hand, and these comments were casual and oblique.' Nonetheless, the Committee on Legislation of the Proprietary Association was quite right in viewing with grave alarm Dr. Wiley's criticism of patent medicines in his speech before Washington physicians. This betokened a turning of the tide.

Wiley had never been a friend of quackery. As a 'boy he had known of a neighborhood nostrum dispensed to quiet malarial chills. As chief chemist in Washington he had collected "bales of advertising of fraudulent remedies." His bureau had tested several "lost manhood" treatments for the Post Office Department and had investigated suspicious remedies 'shipped in from overseas. Wiley's main concern, however, had been with fraudulent food, and this had monopolized his research time and public oratory. Now, in joining his voice to those already decrying patent medicines, Wiley was giving a sort of governmental sanction to the criticism. As the main champion in the fight for a national law, he was lending his personal prestige to the suggestion that patent medicines should be regulated by such a law. His adherence to the anti-nostrum crusade was no temporary allegiance. Wiley spoke out against patent medicines again and again, even at the International Congress of Applied Chemistry in Berlin. On March 1, 1903, he set up, within the Bureau of Chemistry, a drug laboratory which devoted increasing attention to the analysis of proprietary remedies.-

It would be giving one man too great credit to say that Wiley's anti-nostrum addresses loosed the flood of criticism which soon flowed forth across the land. The American Medical Association's thorough house-cleaning of its Journal's advertising, Bok's revived attack on patent medicines in the Ladies' Home Journal, and, especially, Hapgood's fresh campaign in Collier's with Samuel Hopkins Adams as his leading general-all these events would have taken place in any case. With a spirit of exposure in the air and the need for revelations so patent in the nostrum field, muckraking was inevitable. Without Wiley's lead and help, however, the task of exposure would have been more difficult.

Adams went to Wiley at the very start of his researches, and the chemist gave the reporter counsel, lent him clippings, and read drafts of his articles. The two men became firm friends and co-conspirators regarding patent medicine features of the food and drug bill. Bok too sought Wiley's advice and persuaded the chief chemist to write an article on headache powders. When the American Medical Association set up its Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry, Wiley was made a member. His laboratory helped in testing medicines advertised to doctors, and in 1905 Wiley and the Association officers managed to get the relationship between the Bureau and the Council put on a semi-official basis. From these contacts, Wiley was enabled to call the timing of powerful AMA lobbying efforts in behalf of a food and drug bill [19].

Wherever there might be support for the kind of law he wanted, there Wiley was active. "He had become the commander of a heterogeneous army bound together in a curious amalgam of self-interest and principle." He kept in close touch with agricultural chemists in the states. He corresponded with trade editors and trade association officials who had come to recognize the need for protective legislation. He helped devise activities for the Pure Food Committee of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Most significantly of all, Wiley continued to work hand in glove with members of the House and Senate who favored a rigorous law [20].

The expanded public criticism of patent medicines began to make its weight felt early in 1904. A House bill, passed in January, still covered no drugs but those of the Pharmacopoeia. But the bill presented by McCumber to the Senate defined drugs in a sweeping way and stated that any drug was adulterated which fell below the professed standard under which it was sold. For the first time in a Congressional hearing, proprietary remedies were extensively debated. Manufacturers and some wholesalers objected strenuously to the mere mention in the draft bill of their wares, while anti-nostrum spokesmen feared that the phraseology was too fuzzy for effective regulation. Senator McCumber, believing the opposition to this clause might jeopardize the whole bill, sought to retreat, but his colleague, Weldon Heyburn from Idaho, prevented it, and the bill went to the Senate floor with the expanded drug definition. Lobbying pressures from industries, now including the drug trade, were still too powerful to be denied. McCumber and Heyburn could not get the Senate to take up the measure. Heyburn's last two efforts, indeed, were cut off in mid-sentence. And so the bill died [21].

The pure food advocates were disheartened but they did not falter. One major task of recruitment still faced them. President Roosevelt, for all his reforming zeal, had not yet spoken out in behalf of a food and drug law. Perhaps the reason was, as Samuel Hopkins Adams believed, that pure food "wasn't political enough to interest him, at least he thought it wasn't." Senator Heyburn had sought to persuade him, and had then urged Wiley to use his blandishments. The chemist had talked with the President and had been instrumental in arranging a visit from a committee of six of the most persuasive pure food advocates. Roosevelt was sympathetic. Nine months later, in November 1905, when the President had not yet made a public statement, the committee called at the White House again. This time he promised that he would endorse pure food legislation in his annual message. The next month Roosevelt devoted three sentences to the matter: "I recommend that a law be enacted to regulate interstate commerce in misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks, and drugs. Such law would protect legitimate manufacture and commerce, and would tend to secure the health and welfare of the consuming public. Traffic in foodstuffs which have been debased or adulterated so as to injure health or to deceive purchasers should be forbidden." [22]

The President did not mention patent medicines, but both reformers and proprietors felt sure that he had them in mind. He had acquiesced in a decided stepping-up by the Post Office Department of its attacks against medical frauds. He had agreed to the Treasury Department order which plagued the Hostetters, expanding the internal revenue taxes levied on whiskey to cover patent medicines containing a high proportion of alcohol. When Roosevelt sent his brief message to Congress, Adams' first Collier's series was at the halfway point. Public excitement was rising [23].

The pressure on the medicine men had begun to tell. The National Druggist of St. Louis, at the most violent extreme, increased the tempo of its strident attacks. Several Proprietary Association stalwarts, on the other hand, felt that concession was called for. Charles Stowell told the annual meeting that the Ayer firm was going to print on the labels of all its remedies the complete formulas, using plain English and giving exact quantities. He pleaded with other proprietors to join him. A few did, but the majority refrained. The breach was widened when Stowell and others opposed the launching of a vigorous newspaper campaign to fight hostile legislation. Even the main wing of the Association was forced to give some ground. They forsook their adamant opposition to a national bill that controlled proprietary remedies in any way and centered their ire on versions sponsored by the Wiley-led reformers. "If the Federal Government should regulate Inter-state traffic in drugs on the basis of their therapeutic value," the Committee on Legislation inquired rhetorically, "why not regulate traffic in theology, by excluding from transportation, all theological books which Dr. Wiley and his assistants, upon examination, should find to be 'misleading in any particular'?" At a special secret meeting early in December 1905, the Proprietary Association called for an end to nostrums containing narcotics and remedies over-loaded with alcohol. They urged their Committee on Legislation to work for a law that would exercise restraint in these respects. The Association also advised its members to avoid promotion inflated with falsehood. This led a drug trade journal which long had fought nostrum abuses to editorialize: "The warning to the members . . . to be more guarded in their published claims is unfortunately not so valuable now as it would have been a year or even six months ago." [24]

There was evidence that a feeling of pressure had helped to motivate the more compromising position. Well represented at the Association's meeting were officers of firms which the muckrakers had handled savagely. These men displayed a hesitancy in talking to newspaper men which looked to one reporter "like real fear." [25]

Hardly had the Proprietary Association adjourned its meeting in New York when the new Congress convened in Washington. The next day after hearing Roosevelt's plea for action, Senator Heyburn reintroduced his pure food and drug measure. This time the Senate dared not give the bill the silent treatment. During January and February the debates were long and heated. Patent medicines were a central theme. McCurnber and Heyburn, using material furnished them by Wiley, castigated the nostrum evil, but they differed somewhat in their views as to how tightly the bill would control therapeutic claims made on medicine labels. The chief champion for the proprietary interests was J.A. Hemenway of Indiana, a friend of A.R. Beardsley, treasurer of the Miles Medical Company and leading figure in the Proprietary Association. Hemenway did not want to kill the measure, he said, but to modify it. He cited Beardsley's opposition to a law which would attack "statements made in good faith regarding the therapeutic qualities of medicine or its ingredients." McCumber and Heyburn objected to a Hemenway amendment but finally accepted a modification of it, as they did other Senatorial suggestions that seriously crippled the patent medicine provisions of the bill. Having striven in vain for years even to get a measure to the floor, the Senators from North Dakota and Idaho compromised where necessary in the hope that at last some bill might be accepted by their colleagues. When the moment approached Heyburn could scarcely believe it. Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana recalled the circumstances:

The Senate was in a jam and public feeling had become in-tense. Aldrich [Republican leader in the Senate, to whom Roose-velt had made a personal appeal to withdraw his opposition to the bill] came to me one afternoon and said: "Tell Heyburn if he asks consideration for the Pure Food bill there will be no objection." (Some fight was going on between us [Progressives] and the Old Guard, and this was obviously a manoeuvre, to save something else they thought more important; I think perhaps they counted on killing the Pure Food bill in the House later ... .) So I went to Heyburn and told him to bring up the Pure Food bill instantly and the Old Guard would not block him. Heyburn could not believe it and said he was tired of being made a fool of by asking useless consideration which he had asked so many times before. However, I insisted .... I told Heyburn there was no time to waste, and to act without any questions .... Finally, about the middle of the afternoon, Heyburn got up. . . . [26]

On February 21, 1906, with Wiley sitting in the balcony, the pure food and drug bill passed the Senate. Hemenway joined Heyburn in voting for the measure [27].

If staunch opponents of patent medicines were not happy with the terms, they rejoiced that at least the Senate had done something and hoped that the stronger anti-nostrum provisions in the House bill might eventually prevail. But would the House act at all? Advocates of the bill began to wonder as the days went by. Then a discouraging sign was noted. Lobbyists for interests fighting restrictive legislation were checking out of their hotels and leaving town. A reporter learned from a leading House Republican the decision to keep the bill from coming to debate during that session [28].

If death by inaction was the sentence intended for the pure food and drug bill by its enemies, fate entered in to reverse the judgment. The circumstances had nothing to do with patent medicines, but they certainly helped to achieve tighter drug provisions in the final bill. A book was published by an obscure Socialist writer named Upton Sinclair. He had gone to Chicago to write a tract in fictional form about the miserable life of immigrants who labored in the packing houses. He had aimed at people's hearts, as he said, but he had hit their stomachs. For The Jungle incidentally described the filthy conditions under which America's meat was processed, how inspectors blinked while tubercular carcasses were brought back into the line, how rats and the poisoned bread put out to catch them were ground up with meat for public consumption, how employees now and then slipped into steamy vats and next went forth into the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard. The public was staggered, and the sale of meat fell by half. Roosevelt was angry. When an investigation revealed that Sinclair had not overdrawn the case, the President insisted that Congress act to insure clean meat and pure food for the American people [29].

The sense of urgency influenced the drug clauses in the bill brought to the floor of the House by the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Indeed, James R. Mann, a physician from Illinois, who with William P. Hepburn of Iowa had the bill in charge, felt the time was ripe for a grandstand play. He wrote into the measure, with Wiley's and Adams' help, the toughest anti-patent medicine provisions that any draft ever had contained. Among other things, the bill would require medical labeling to report the presence and quantity of alcohol, opium, cocaine, "or other poisonous substances." Medicine makers, at the mere thought of what Wiley might deem to be poison, broke out in a cold sweat. "The officers of the proprietary association started at once for Washington," as Mann narrated the tale. "They insisted that the provision was absolutely new, had been adopted without any hearings, and would be ruinous to their business if enacted into law. Our subcommittee gave them courteous, full and patient hearing. They presented to us an amendment." [30]

The manufacturers' proposal would require the listing on labels of certain specified drugs if they were present above a certain minimum amount. Modeled after a Massachusetts law, this plan represented the greatest concession yet made by the Proprietary Association. But Wiley did not think much of it. "The bill might as well not contain anything in regard to patent medicines," he wrote Mann after an interview with fifteen medicine makers, "as to allow the quantities mentioned in the proposed amendment to be used without notice .... It would simply make the bill a joke." He did feel it might be shrewd to change the "other poisonous substances" to a specific list. Thus Wiley the crusader urged upon Mann the legislator some modification, but he was fearful, nonetheless, that Mann might yield too much. The medicine proprietors, Wiley wrote to Adams, "I think will get their amend-ment ... practically just as they have written it." In conference and letter Wiley kept supplying Mann with clippings, nostrum analyses, and other data, and Adams came to Washington to help keep the Illinois Congressman staunch for a strongly worded bill [31].

Mann went on with his grand strategy. He seemed to yield by accepting a weaker patent medicine amendment, knowing all the time that his committee was willing to support more vigorous controls when the moment seemed propitious to reinsert them in the bill. News of this scheme leaked out, however, when a news-paper reporter overheard Mann explaining it to Adams.

The revelation stirred the medicine makers to strenuous action with respect to a master plan of their own. "Not daring to fight this bill in the open," Mann charged on the floor of the House, "not daring to say that they were afraid to state the quantity of narcot-ics in their drugs, they have falsified in some way about this bill and endeavored to give the country the impression that it was the Senate bill which provided for labeling the narcotics... and that it was the House bill that proposed to strike it out, when, as a matter of fact, the Senate bill has nothing upon the subject, and it was the House committee which put it in." This trick was remarkably effective. Many tried and true supporters of rigorous legislation were fooled. Pro-pure food newspapers, like the New York Tribune, pleaded in editorials to pass the Senate bill and quash the House version. Doctors wrote letters to the same effect. Even officials of the American Medical Association were briefly befuddled. But Mann and Hepburn managed to keep House members from succumbing to this complete reversal of the facts [32].

The House debate in June made clear how much wider was the awareness of the nostrum menace than it had been five years, even a year, before. To be sure, no attention need be given meat, for a separate inspection bill had recently passed the House. There was still much discussion about the food, whiskey, and administrative provisions of the bill. An adamant states rights minority reiterated their opposition to any national law: "The Federal Government," said a Georgian, "was not created for the purpose of cutting your toe nails or corns." Some suspicion of Wiley and the sophisticated science he stood for remained: "I believe," asserted the same Congressman, "there are millions of old women, white and black, who know more about good victuals and good eating than my friend Doctor Wiley and all his apothecary shop." But the main theme of the House debate was the patent medicine evil. "Of all the great civilized nations of the earth," stated a Texan, "the United States is about the only one that has not a strict law on the subject." Even Russia did, he added. For every illness caused by unclean meat, insisted another member, there were a hundred cases of poisoning and death from nostrums. More than that, tainted meat was not habit-forming. Congressmen were chided for giving testimonials to proprietary concerns. "Indeed," jibed a member, "Peruna seems to be the favorite Congressional drink." The anti-nostrum provisions, asserted the Congressman from Samuel Hopkins Adams' home district, were "the most important subjects of the bill." Others expressed the same sentiment, and the name of Adams came frequently into the debate. Mann acknowledged with apprecia-tion that the list of dangerous drugs which must be named on medicine labels had been drawn up with the journalist's as-sistance [33].

Many uncomplimentary adjectives, on the other hand, were hurled at the heads of the medicine makers, who seemed to have no champion on the floor brave enough to speak out. On June 23 the bill passed the House, with only the states-righters casting negative votes. The House and Senate reconciled their different versions in conference, and the nostrum provisions emerged more stringent than they had been in either bill. On June 30 Theodore Roosevelt put his signature to the Pure Food and Drugs Act [34].

Dr. Wiley sought to get the pen with which the President signed, but found that Senator Heyburn had put his name in first. This priority was not the one that counted most. In a tribute that in American annals is extremely rare, this piece of legislation came to bear, not Heyburn's name, nor that of any other member of the Senate or the House who had worked so diligently. The act became known as the Wiley law. Heyburn himself concurred in such recognition. Even before the law was passed he had written the chemist: "You may rely upon it that for all time your name will be closely associated with .. any 'Pure food' legislation whatsoever named." On the House side, Mann had ended his remarks before the vote on the conference report with praise of Wiley. Wiley returned the compliment, saying that to Mann "the principal credit must be given." The chief chemist also expressed appreciation for the unflagging zeal of other Congressional stalwarts. He recognized the crucial importance of the publication of Sinclair's The Jungle. The major influences upon Congress that brought success, Wiley believed, were two: "the medical profession, the American Medical Association with 140,000 members, and the 700 women's clubs in the country." [35]

Almost all segments of opinion greeted the new law with approval. The pure food and drug advocates were too optimistic in their appraisal. As a result of the act, editorialized the New York Times, "the purity and honesty of the food and medicines of the people are guaranteed." The patent medicine provisions, predicted the Nation, would deal a "deathblow" to harmful nostrums. The law was "far better in every respect," asserted the Journal of the American Medical Association, than its most ardent supporters could have hoped. "Certainly the powerful Proprietary Association of America has not proved to be so powerful after all." [36]

Yet the Proprietary Association was not unhappy. Frank J. Cheney, its president, thought it was "silly" to require him to put a new label on Hall's Catarrh Cure just because it contained "a trifling amount of alcohol." But the general effect of the law, he said, would be good. "People generally will reason, and reason correctly, that preparations which come up to the requirements of a congressional enactment must be all right, or, certainly, that they are not harmful or dangerous." Even the National Druggist, most acrimonious foe of legislation, termed the final result "not such a terrible thing after all." "But let it not be supposed," the editor added, "that the law would have been enacted in its present rather innocuous form but for hard, intelligent and most tactful work on the part of the representatives of the interests it is intended to regulate." [37]

What did the new Wiley act have to say about proprietary remedies? It required that the labels which manufacturers put upon their medicines must tell the truth -- not the whole truth, but the truth in certain significant respects. The presence and amount of certain dangerous drugs -- alcohol, the opiates, chloral hydrate, acetanilide, and several others -- must always be stated on the package. Other ingredients need not be named unless the proprietor wished to, but if he did choose to indicate that certain substances were present, they must be there, and in the quantity claimed. If he asserted that certain ingredients were not present -- denying that a nostrum contained opium was a favorite promotional device -- then they must in fact be missing. As the law put it, a remedy was adulterated "If its strength or purity fall below the professed standard under which it is sold." If a proprietor could not beguile consumers with respect to ingredients, neither could he deceive in other respects or be guilty of misbranding. He could not misinform about the state, territory, or country in which his product was made. Nor, indeed, could he put upon his label "any statement, design, or device" regarding the medicine or its ingredients which was "false or misleading in any particular." [38]

Keep quiet on the label or do not lie, the law said. Respecting the listed dangerous drugs, silence was forbidden. Thus the act did not strike a blow against self-medication, but sought to make it safer. It was based on a favorite Progressive assumption, an assumption as old as American independence, that the average man was intelligent enough to plot his own course and would avoid risks if he was aware of them.

Time was to reveal serious shortcomings in the 1906 law and to challenge optimism about the common man's capacity. Nonetheless, the Pure Food and Drugs Act marks a mighty turning point in patent medicine history. For more than a century, American proprietors had been free to mix whatever they wanted and promote it however they wished. In such an atmosphere "the toadstool millionaires" had flourished. Now, with Dr. Wiley's law, the concept of control over proprietary remedy promotion was firmly written into national policy.


  1. Congressional Record, 58th Cong. 1st ses., 4,550.
  2. Proprietary Assoc., 21st Annual Report (N.Y., 1903), 52; Wiley's speech was published as "Drugs and Their Adulterations and the Laws Relating Thereto," Washington Medical Annals, 2 (1903), 205-28.
  3. Thomas A. Bailey, "Congressional Opposition to Pure Food Legislation," Amer. Jnl. Sociology, 36 (July 1930), 52-64; Charles W. Dunn, "Its Legislative History," Historic Meeting to Commemorate Fortieth Anniversary of Original Food and Drugs Act (N.Y., 1946), 9-23; Cong. Rec., 45 Cong. S ses., 575; ibid., 52 Cong. 1 ses., 713-15.
  4. N.Y. Times, Apr. 15, 1892.
  5. Adulteration of Foods and Drugs, 54 Cong. 2 ses., Sen. Rep. 1,458, p. 1; Advertising Noxious Remedies through the Mails, 48 Cong. 1 ses., House Rep. 523; Standard Remedies, 1 (Feb. 1915), 3-4; Cong. Rec., 52 Cong. 1 ses., 8,603.
  6. Standard Remedies, 1 (Feb. 1915), 3-4; 2 (Mar. 1916) 17-18; 1897 Proprietary Assoc. Report, cited in Frederick 3. Cullen, "The First Twenty-Five Years" (mimeographed text of address given during May 1956); Proprietary Assoc., 17th Annual Report (N.Y., 1899), 37, 42, 197; Amer. Pharm. Assoc., Proceedings, 1893, 286.
  7. Proprietary Assoc., 17th Annual Report, 41; Amer. Druggist and Pharm. Record, 8 (1905), 256.
  8. Harvey W. Wiley, An Autobiography (Indianapolis, 1930), 13-153; Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The Health of a Nation, Harvey W. Wiley and the Fight for Pure Food (Chicago, 1958), 1-31.
  9. Wiley, Autobiography, 154-77; Gustavus A. Weber, The Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration (Institute for Govt. Research, Service Monographs of the U.S. Govt., No. 50, Balt., 1928), 2-4.
  10. Wiley, Autobiography, 224; Adulteration of Food Products, 56 Cong. 1 ses., Sen. Rep. 516; Cong. Rec., 56 Cong. 1 ses., 4,963.
  11. Journal of Proceedings of the National Pure Food and Drug Congress Held in . . . Washington, D.C. (Wash., 1898); Report of the Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the National Pure Food and Drug Congress (Wash., 1899). The Proprietary Association was represented.
  12. Based on Wiley's Autobiography and impressions gained from correspond-ence in the Wiley Papers, Manuscript Div., Library of Congress.
  13. Ibid.; the quotation is from Edwin Björkman, "Our Debt to Dr. Wiley," World's Work, 19 (1910), 12,443.
  14. Wiley, Autobiography, 156, 215-20; Charles T. Tittman, "Harvey Wash-ington Wiley, 1844-1930," Cosmos Club Bull., 5 (May 1952), 2-5; Adultera-tion, Etc., of Foods, Etc.," 57 Cong. 1 sea., Sen. Rep. 972, 112-14. Wiley him-self objected to the term "Poison Squad."
  15. Ibid.; Hearings before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives on The Pure-Food Bills (57 Cong. 1 sea., 1902); Cong. Rec., 57 Cong. 2 ses., 457-58, 2,647, 2,964-67. The best available discussion and analysis of the Congressional battle leading to the 1906 law is in Anderson, 120-96.
  16. Proprietary Assoc., 22nd Annual Report (N.Y., 1904), 93-99.
  17. See, for example, Adulteration of Food Products, 56 Cong. 1 sea., Sen. Rep. 516, pp. 193-95, 484.
  18. Wiley, Autobiography, 53, 205; manuscript entitled "Federal Control of Drugs," Misc. Papers, m, Bur. of Chem. Records, Record Group 97, Ntl. Archives; speech drafts in Wiley Papers, boxes 188-190, Library of Congress; Weber, 5; Lyman F. Kebler to Wiley, Nov. 30 and Dec. 15, 1902, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres., RG 97, Ntl. Archives.
  19. Adams to Wiley, May 29, 1905, Wiley Papers, Library of Congress; ibid., Jan. 8 [1906], Mar. 6, 16, 20, 24, 1906, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres., RG 97, Ntl. Archives; Wiley to Adams, Mar. 26, 1906, Letterbook, Bur. of Chem., General Corres.; Bok to Wiley, Apr. 27, Oct. 15, 1906, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres.
  20. 20 R. M. Allen, Ky. chemist, to Wiley, Feb. 23, May 2, Dec. 5, 1904; A. C. Morrison, Amer. Baking Powder Assoc., to Wiley, June 11, 24, 30, 1902, Apr. 5, Dec. 22, 1905, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres.; F. N. Barrett, Amer. Grocer, to Wiley, Apr. 24, May 21, June 3, 1902, Feb. 1, Mar. 3, 16, 1904; Gaswell A. Mayo, Amer. Druggist, to Kebler, Oct. 27, 1904; numerous letters to Wiley from Alice Lakey, chrmn., Pure Food Committee of the General Fed, of Women's Clubs; Hepburn to Wiley, Mar. 2, 3, 1902, Nov. 30, Dec. 5, 1903; Heyburn to Wiley, Feb. 11, Apr. 15, 29, May 2, July 7, 28, Nov. 20, 1904, Apr. 10, Dec. 30, 1905, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres., RG 97, Nfl. Archives; Annals of the Amer. Acad. of Pol. and Social Science, 28 (1906), 296-97. The quotation is from Anderson, 147.
  21. 21 Adulteration of Foods, Etc., 58 Cong. 2 ses., Sen. Rep. 1,209; Cong. Rec., 58 Cong. 2 ses., 4,349-50; 3 ses., 126-27, 3,754-55, 3,845-47, 3,852-55, 3,943-44; Proprietary Assoc., 22nd Annual Report, 93-99; Edward Lowry, "The Senate Plot against Pure Food," World's Work, 10 (1905), 6,215-17; Ntl. Druggist, 35 (1905), 54.
  22. Interview with Adams; Heyburn to Wiley, Nov. 20, 1904, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres., RG 97, Ntl. Archives; Sullivan, Our Times, u, 530; Charles A. L. Reed to Wiley, Oct. 25, 1905, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres.; Cong. Rec., 59 Cong. 1 ses., 102.
  23. "Mr. Roosevelt's Views on 'Patent Medicines,'" Ladies' Home Jnl., 23 (April 1906),21; Report of the President's Homes Commission, 60 Cong. 2 ses., Sen. Doc. 644, pp. 281-83.
  24. Ntl. Druggist, 35 (1905), 35-56; [Henry R. Strong], The Arrogance of Ethics (St. Louis, 1905: reprinted from Ntl. Druggist); Amer. Druggist and Pharm. Record, 46 (1905), 255-56; 47 (1905), 244, 315; Druggists Circular, 49 (1905), 311; Proprietary Assoc., 23rd Annual Report (N.Y., 1905), 34; Bull. Pharm., 20 (1906), 5.
  25. Amer. Druggist and Pharm. Record, 47 (1905), 315.
  26. Cong. Rec., 59 Cong. 1 ses., 140-2,773 Passim; Chicago Tribune, Feb. 21, 22, 1906; Beveridge cited in Sullivan, Our Times, ii, 533-34.
  27. Cong. Rec., 59 Cong. 1 ses., 2,773; Wiley, Autobiography, 229.
  28. Sullivan, U, 534. This may not have been so; Speaker Cannon's position was not fully clear. Anderson, 188.
  29. Ibid., 471-83, 535-52; Sinclair, The Jungle (N.Y., 1906).
  30. Cong. Rec., 59 cong. 1 ses., 8,889-9,801 passim, with Mann explaining his strategy especially at 8,892-93 and 9,739-40.
  31. Ibid.; Wiley to Mann, Mar. 19, 23, 29, Apr. 2, 1906; Wiley to Adams, Mar. 26, 1906, Letterbooks, Bur. of Chem., General Corres., RG 97, Nfl. Archives; Adams interview.
  32. Cong. Rec., 59 Cong. 1 ses., 8,892-93 and 9,739-40; N.T. Tribune, June 21, 1906.
  33. 3' Cong. Rec., 59 Cong. 1 ses., 8,889-9,801.
  34. In the House bill the amount of alcohol could be withheld from the label if it did not exceed the quantity required as a solvent or preservative for the active ingredients. Even this exception was eliminated in conference with the Senate.
  35. William Loeb, Jr., Roosevelt's secretary, to Thomas R. Shipp, July 12, 1906, Wiley Papers, box 60, Library of Congress; Heyburn to Wiley, Dec. 30, 1905, Bur. of Chem., Incoming Corres., RG 97, Nil. Archives; Cong. Rec., 59 Cong. 1 ses., 9,740; manuscript of Wiley address before Atlas Club, Chicago, Dec. 14, 1906, Wiley, Papers, box 61; Wiley, "The Value of the Food and Drug Act to the Consumer," Chautauquan Daily, July 29, 1908, clipping in Wiley Papers, box 191; Anderson's judicious appraisal of Wiley's role is given at 195-96.
  36. N.Y. Times, July 1, 1906; Nation, 82 (1906), 523; JAMA, 47 (1906), 42, 116.
  37. Ntl. Druggist, 36 (1906), 210, 372.
  38. Ch. 3,915, 34 Stat. 768.

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