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Origins of the National Institutes of Health
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The 1900's Bring Change

U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service Flag. The flag is white with a dark blue fringe around the outside of the flag. In the center is the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service logo with the words U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service around the outside of the logo. In the middle of the logo is the Rod of Asclepius, consisting of a two serpents entwined around a winged staff crisscrossing with an anchor and chain.
U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service Flag, 1902 to 1912.
U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service Flag. The flag is orange with a dark blue fringe around the outside of the flag. In the center is the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service logo with the words U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service around the outside of the logo. In the middle of the logo is the Rod of Asclepius, consisting of a two serpents entwined around a winged staff crisscrossing with an anchor and chain.
U.S. Public Health Service Flag, 1912 to the present.

General laboratory work was not specifically authorized until the passage of the sundry civil appropriation act of March 3, 1901, which made an appropriation for the erection of a laboratory "for the investigation of infectious diseases and matters pertaining to the public health." The Act of July 1, 1902, provided specifically for the organization and management of the Hygienic Laboratory. The Hygienic laboratory was expanded to include four main divisions: Bacteriology and Pathology, Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Zoology. An Advisory Board of outside experts was also created. In 1902 the Hygienic Laboratory also became a regulatory agency, when it was charged with enforcing laboratory standards for producers of vaccines and antitoxins injected into the human body. Seventy years later NIH relinquished this function to the Food and Drug Administration.

The name of the Marine Hospital Service was changed by the July 1, 1902, law to the "Public Health and Marine Hospital Service." A new seal and flag were created. Public pressure for less emphasis on the care of seamen and more emphasis on the control of contagious disease on the general population was temporarily satisfied.

A U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service laboratory about 1902
A U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service laboratory about 1902.

In 1903 there was a proposal to move the Bureau from the Treasury Department to the Department of Commerce and Labor. The Secretary of the Treasury foiled this plan and had a law passed in 1904 which provided that the Service must remain in the Treasury Department until otherwise provided in law. In 1906 an eminent "A Committee of One Hundred" began promoting a "National Department of Health." By 1909 the Hygienic Laboratory had a staff of 55, 15 of whom were scientists and a "maintenance appropriation" of $15,000. The next year its staff would publish the article that added "allergen" (and allergy) to the medical literature. Responding to continued public pressure, on August 14, 1912, a new law changed the name from the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service to simply the "Public Health Service." Again the seal and flag of the organization were modified, this time incorporating the quarantine flag yellow.


Department of the Treasury Flag. The flag is dark blue with a fringe around the outside of the flag. In the center of the flag are the thirteen white stars in a circle around two crossed white anchors with a white shield in the center. On the top portion of the shield is a scale in dark blue, an angled blue line separates it from a dark blue key on the bottom.
Department of the Treasury Flag, 1915 to 1963.

In 1915 the Coast Guard was created in the Treasury Department and this caused a change in the Departmental flag to feature crossed anchors. In 1918 the Hygienic Laboratory was trying to suppress the pandemic "Spanish influenza" but making little progress against this virus. Its work did change the way small pox vaccinations were given to troops and found their shaving brushes a source of tetanus and anthrax. A tetanus antitoxin and anti-typhoid vaccines were developed.

The leadership of the Hygienic Laboratory began campaigning in 1922 to study basic as well as applied biomedical research. Science solely to increase knowledge was then the exclusive property of the universities and few private foundations. By 1925 the staff was 117 with 46 scientists and a maintenance appropriation of $50,000.