The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of Twentieth Century

Joseph A. Page


This awkwardly and to some extent misleadingly labeled account of the birth and infancy of federal food and drug regulation demonstrates that the caution against judging a book by its cover might also apply to titles. The connection between the terse main title and the wordy subtitle of The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s SingleMinded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century is not readily apparent. Moreover, the work of the so-called “Poison Squad,” a group of young volunteers engaged by the government to ingest allegedly adulterated foods in order to determine what harms they might actually cause, was but one of the elements contributing to the passage of the path-breaking 1906 federal Food and Drugs Act. The sobriquet given to these intrepid human guinea pigs turned out to be an effective publicity generator at the time, just as its use in a book title today is probably meant to serve a promotional function. In fact the text devotes only a bit more than a single chapter to the exploits of the “Squad.”