History of Medicine
Guide to Collections Relating to the History of Artificial Internal Organs
U.S. Food and Drug Administration History Office
5600 Fishers Lane, HFC-24, Room 1351, Rockville, MD 20857
John P. Swann, FDA Historian
The mission of the FDA History Office is to increase knowledge of the history, mission, and activities of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its predecessor, the Bureau of Chemistry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The office provides perspective on current policy objectives and increases public understanding of FDA's purpose and function. In general, office activities concern research, documentation, consultation, and information.
FDA Museum Collections, predominantly 20th century
Several thousand individual items
The origins of the FDA History Office can be traced back to March 1968, when Commissioner James Goddard assigned Wallace Janssen, a Public Information Specialist and Special Assistant to the Assistant Commissioner for Education and Information, the responsibility of establishing an agency-wide historian's office. In addition to seeking documentary information from FDA activities, the History Office also began an oral history program in the late 1970s. The FDA Office contracted with the NLM to preserve the tapes and transcripts of these oral history interviews as they were completed. To date there are over 150 oral histories in the collection at NLM, accompanied by an updated cumulative index to virtually all the transcripts.
In 1984 the agency's history function--by this time housed in the Office of Legislative Affairs--was reinstituted formally as the FDA History Office and placed in the Office of Regulatory Affairs. The latter, an organizational descendant of the early chemists and inspectors in the Bureau of Chemistry, and a part of FDA especially rich with career employees, was a likely component of the agency to foster the growth of the history program. The History Office remained agency-wide in scope. Also, it assumed additional responsibilities; the oral history project was folded into this office, and the extant effort to collect and preserve historically significant papers and objects also became a major office responsibility. The full-time professional staff was increased to fulfill the office's expanded mission.
All the objects, which total several thousand individual items, illustrate products the FDA regulates, and many document key enforcement cases in the history of the agency. In addition to these, the Smithsonian Institution, the St. Louis Science Center, and the Science Museum of Minnesota have a significant number of objects on loan from the FDA. For example, the collection includes a box of Pillsbury Blueberry Pancake Mix, which the FDA seized in 1959 for misbranding. Contrary to the listed ingredients and the picture on the box, this product had no blueberries. The collection also includes bogus bust developers such as Lady Ample, seized in the 1960s, and misbranded and dangerous faux exercise devices including different models of the Relaxacizor, against which FDA took action several times in the 1970s. Other notable items included in this collection are samples of Elixir Sulfanilamide and Kevadon (thalidomide), the culprits that killed or maimed many patients in this country and thereby revolutionized drug laws in 1938 and 1962, respectively, as well as Lash Lure, a synthetic aniline eyelash dye that blinded many women in the 1930s, before cosmetics came under regulation.
The museum collection also includes about 4000 reference samples of pharmaceuticals from the 1950s to the 1980s, including products that accompanied new drug applications and reference standards issued for the United States Pharmacopoeia.
The objects are organized under many categories and subcategories, determined by the agency's regulatory jurisdictions: pharmaceuticals (including labels, promotional matter, drug containers, and weight loss pharmaceuticals--the latter because of the volume of such objects), biologic agents, foods (including vitamins, labels, and promotional items), medical devices, cosmetics, veterinary feed and drugs, equipment used for inspections and for laboratory analyses (mostly chemical and microbiological), quack products (including devices, pharmaceuticals, foods, biologics, and cosmetics), pesticides, and colors.
Finally, the collection includes ephemeral objects, including awards that employees or offices received and unusual company promotional items not included elsewhere, such as paperweights, letter openers, and pill trays. Historically, the exhibition of objects has had a prominent role at the FDA. For example, in the 1930s the agency collected Lash Lure and scores of other fraudulent and dangerous products for an exhibit--dubbed by a reporter the "American Chamber of Horrors"--that would demonstrate to Congress and the public the shortcomings of the 1906 Food and Drugs Act. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the agency organized a room of photos and objects to illustrate the hazards of quackery. An FDA Museum informed visitors in the 1970s about how the agency administered the 1906 and 1938 acts. Today the FDA History Office manages photo and artifact exhibits in several display cases across the agency.
Check with History Office.
Check with History Office.
Check with History Office.