From 1902 until 1907, a dozen young men wearing pressed suits, neatly starched collars and bow ties were in charge of keeping the food of the whole community poison-free. They usually spent their nights dining in a kitchen that was run by the government where they consumed common, but formerly untested food preservatives.
These men did not only demonstrate the need for a list of ingredients on food labels, but they also drove the formation of what you now refer to as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They bravely and purposely ate poisoned food, which is why people in the community looked up to them back then.
The notion of getting a group of people to readily poison themselves might appear indescribable in this day and age. However, the chief chemist of the Bureau of Chemistry Harvey Wiley claimed that he had a justifiable reason to resort to this experiment.
Ever since the 1800s, people were eating unregulated and unsafe foods. For instance, their bitter beer contained strychnine and their bread were filled with chalk. He even witnessed honey companies using glucose and claiming that it was pure honey.
As the country transitioned from an agricultural into an urban society, factories slowly began taking charge of developing food products. They kept using new and untested chemicals as preservatives and they didn’t even state it on their labels. Wiley started wondering if those new preservatives that they used, including formaldehyde, salicylic and borax, were really safe for human consumption.
Fortunately, members of the Poison Squad willingly volunteered to be a part his new experiment. They were either students from Georgetown Medical College or employees of the Bureau of Chemistry.
So, next time that you check out the extremely long list of ingredients in a packaged muffin and see that chalk isn’t included, remember these young men who once risked their lives for you.