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Historical Highlights

The Pure Food and Drug Act

June 23, 1906
The Pure Food and Drug Act Image courtesy of the Library of Congress The Pure Food and Drug Act was a centerpiece of progressive reforms in the early 20th century.
On this date, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (PL 59-384) passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, 240 to 17. Muckraking journalists had long reported on the appallingly unsanitary conditions of the country’s manufacturing plants, especially those in Chicago’s meat-packing industry. But it wasn’t until the public outcry following the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle that Congress moved on legislation that would prevent “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs or medicines, and liquors.” The version of the bill which became the Pure Food and Drug Act originated in the Senate (S.88), and after being sent to the House it was reported out of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee with amendments on March 7th. It sat unconsidered for three months, causing some to wonder if Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois was delaying it. On June 21st, with only a few days left to the session, Representative James Mann of Illinois captivated the chamber with a speech about fruit that had been colored with poisonous red dye, and liquor that had been distilled with chemical fillers. The New York Times called the debate over the Pure Food bill “one of the wildest times that has been seen this session.” After the measure passed, the House and Senate met in conference, settled their differences, and sent the bill back to their respective chambers for final consideration. Following a round of applause, the House approved the conference report on June 29th. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act into law the next day.

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