The Food and Drug Administration is the oldest comprehensive consumer protection agency in the U. S. federal government. Its origins can be traced back to the appointment of Lewis Caleb Beck in the Patent Office around 1848 to carry out chemical analyses of agricultural products, a function that the newly created Department of Agriculture inherited in 1862. Although it was not known by its present name until 1930, FDA’s modern regulatory functions began with the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, a law a quarter-century in the making that prohibited interstate commerce in adulterated and misbranded food and drugs. Harvey Washington Wiley, Chief Chemist of the Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture, had been the driving force behind this law and headed its enforcement in the early years, providing basic elements of protection that consumers had never known before that time.
The staff of the Division of Chemistry is depicted in picture above, shortly after Harvey Washington Wiley took command in 1883, at age 37 (Wiley is third from right). Eighteen eighty-three was also the year when Robert Koch discovered the germ of cholera and that it was transmitted by water and food.
In 1902, Harvey Washington Wiley captured the attention of the country by establishing a volunteer “poison squad” of young men who agreed to eat only foods treated with measured amounts of chemical preservatives, with the object of demonstrating whether these ingredients were injurious to health (see Figure 10). Overnight the press made the “Poison Squad” a national sensation. Even the minstrel shows had songs about the squad — officially designated the “Hygienic Table.”
More about FDA history: http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WhatWeDo/History/Overviews/ucm056044.htm