The American chemist Harvey Washington Wiley (1844-1930) established the methods and philosophy of food analysis. His writings and influence made him the "father of the Food and Drug Administration."
Harvey Wiley was born in Kent, Ind., on Oct. 18, 1844, the son of a farmer. His oldest sister Elizabeth Jane Wiley Corbett, became an early woman physician. A sturdy boy with a fine and receptive mind, Wiley advanced from a log-cabin schoolhouse to Hanover College in Indiana, where he majored in the humanities. He interrupted his studies to serve in the Union Army and then returned, graduating from Hanover in 1867.
Wiley became an instructor in Latin and Greek (1868-1871) at Butler University while continuing his studies at Indiana Medical College, from which he received his medical degree in 1871; subsequent studies took him to Harvard and the University of Berlin. Meanwhile he became a professor of chemistry at Butler, then at Purdue University. Having served as Indiana's state chemist, he became chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1883.
Wiley did a series of studies of food products and published several papers which established him among agricultural chemists. His achievements while at the Department of Agriculture were of both a technical and, uniquely, social character: he devised instruments and methods for processing glucose, grape sugar, and sorghum sugar and practically established the beet-sugar industry in the United States. Wiley also supervised the preparation of his landmark Bulletin No. 13: Foods and Food Adulterants (1887-1889), which covered all classes of food products and described methods of analysis. However, Wiley's dynamic personal qualities, expressed on the public platform and, informally, in such a private publication as Songs of Agricultural Chemists (1892) carried the subject beyond the arguments of technicians.
In 1902 Wiley established his famous "poison squad," a group of volunteers who became "human guinea pigs" to help determine the effect on digestion and health of preservatives, coloring matter, and other substances. His work was the base from which a variety of exposés and sensations, including patent medicines and processed beef, roused the nation, resulting in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Subsequently Wiley found himself under fire by interests dissatisfied with his rigid application of standards. Controversy over administration of the act and its specific effect on industries continued through the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Wiley, persuaded that the act had been betrayed, resigned his government post in 1912.
Wiley then became director of the bureau of foods for Good Housekeeping, published books on health and adulteration, and lectured widely and effectively. A man of excellent presence, magnetic and witty, he stirred general and professional audiences and was accorded national and international honors. In 1929 his retrospective History of a Crime against the Food Law provided inspiration for later crusaders. Active to the end, he died in Washington, D.C., on June 30, 1930.
Further Reading on Harvey Washington Wiley
Wiley's An Autobiography (1930) is also valuable as history. Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The Health of a Nation (1958), provides details on Wiley's major battle. Wiley is examined in the context of the Progressive era in Louis Filler, The Muckrakers: Crusaders for American Liberalism (1968 ed.).