Menu
Image 1 of
Zoom In
Zoom Out
Fullscreen

Letter from Franklin MacVeagh & Co. to Representative James R. Mann, March 29, 1900

Many people urged Congress to curb abuses of the food industry. Franklin MacVeagh, a Chicago banker and former wholesale grocer (who later became secretary of the treasury) wrote to Representative James Mann of Illinois, a pure-food supporter, about the impact of “rebranding,” a practice meant to deceive consumers about a product’s origin.

Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

The practices against which the bill is aimed are real and quite numerous. For example, Wisconsin cheese is branded “New York Cheese”, because New York Cheese is usually rated higher in the market than the Wisconsin product. This is not only unfair to the State of New York, but it is very difficult competition for cheese houses that use honest brands.

Letter from Franklin MacVeagh & Co. to Representative James R. Mann, March 29, 1900 Letter from Franklin MacVeagh & Co. to Representative James R. Mann, March 29, 1900

The Pure Food and Drug Act

Although Congress began investigating drug purity in the 1840s, it was during the Progressive Era that it approved the first federal regulations protecting consumers’ health and safety. When Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle revealed food adulteration and unsanitary practices in meat production, public outrage prompted Congress to establish federal responsibility for public health and welfare. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 prohibited the sale of misbranded or adulterated food and drugs in interstate commerce and laid a foundation for the nation’s first consumer protection agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

I have here . . . a number of adulterated articles. Here is a bottle of cherries, originally picked green, in order that they might be firm, with the green color all taken out with acid until they were perfectly white, and then colored with an aniline dye which is poisonous in any quantity.

Representative James Mann of Illinois, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, June 21, 1906