Why did USDA commissioner Harvey Washington Wiley poison his coworkers? Believe it or not, this isn’t the start of a murder mystery but rather a story about the history of food safety in the United States. Wiley assembled this “poison squad” to test the health effects of new additives to food in the late 19th century, and he continued this crusade for food regulation with the Pure Food and Drugs Act (passed by Congress in 1906) and on through his career.
To learn more about this fascinating history, Patty spends the hour with science writer Deborah Blum, author of The Poison Squad, UW–Madison’s Go Big Read book selection for 2019–2020.
Deborah Blum is a science writer and the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. Prior to that, she was a professor of journalism at UW–Madison from 1997 to 2015. She is the author of many books, including The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (Penguin, 2010) and The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Penguin, 2018).