Documents: Progressive Era

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the first consumer protection law adopted by the U. S. Congress in the early 20th century in the so-called “Progressive Era” of American history. Its purpose was to protect the public against contamination of food and food products as well as from fraudulent claims without scientific support by those manufacturing drugs for public health purposes. Important scientific support for the law came from Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, Chief Chemist of the Department of Agriculture. Because of his leadership in the adoption of the law, he is often referred to as “Mr. Pure Food and Drug Act.” The Pure Food and Drug Act included the following provisions: (1) Creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) charged with testing all foods and drugs destined for human consumption; (2) Requiring prescriptions from licensed physicians before a patient can purchase certain drugs; and (3) Requiring contents of canned food products to be clearly labeled. The law was later amended, and its scope expanded in 1933.
Within months of the publication of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, which described in gruesome detail very unhealthy practices in the Chicago meat-packing industry, public demand for reform grew. President Theodore Roosevelt sent Labor Commissioner Charles Neill to explore the industry. He learned that practices there were worse than Sinclair described. A short while later, Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. The Act empowers the U. S. Department of Agriculture to inspect all types of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses before and after they are slaughtered and then processed into products for human consumption. The law applies not only to products processed in the U. S. but also to imported products. The Act establishes standards for inspecting all meat processing plants that carry on business across state lines. Sanitary standards are set for slaughterhouses and meat processing plants. The law has been amended and strengthened by later acts including 1967’s Wholesome Meat and Wholesome Poultry Products Acts.
The issue of the national government’s involvement in banking has been around almost since the beginning of the nation and the new Constitution. At the urging of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Congress in 1791 chartered the First Bank of the U. S. which was modeled after Great Britain’s central bank. This bank served as the government’s fiscal agent, receiving its revenues, holding its deposits, and making its payments. When the bank’s charter came up for renewal in 1811, Congress declined to renew it. After the War of 1812, the nation found itself burdened with war debts and an ailing economy, and several influential individuals thought that a new national bank might help resolve these problems. In 1816, Congress chartered he Second Bank of the U. S. for twenty years. Its functions were the same as those of the First Bank of the U. S. When Maryland challenged Congress’ constitutional power to create the Second Bank of the U. S., the Supreme Court in McCulloch v Maryland unanimously upheld Congress’ constitutional power to do so. In 1832, four years before its charter was set to expire, Congress passed a bill to renew the Second Bank’s charter, but President Andrew Jackson vetoed the bill. The following year, President Jackson ordered that all U. S. government deposits be removed from the Second Bank of the U. S. and deposited instead in state chartered banks. In 1836, when the Second Bank’s charter expired, it ceased to exist, and the nation had no central bank. Following the demise of the Second Bank of the U. S., the financial system of the U. S. entered a period which economic historians call “the free banking era.” The only banks in the U. S. were those chartered by the states. For the rest of the century, the nation experienced several financial panics in 1857, 1873, and 1893. In 1907 the U. S. experienced a crisis called “the Wall Street Panic” which, at that time in history, was the worst economic depression in U. S. history. Many banks collapsed; the nation’s unemployment rate reached 20 percent; and millions lost their deposits. The final result of the Panic of 1907 was the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. The Federal Reserve System, created by this 1913 law is like its predecessors in several respects. It issued notes or currency, served as the government’s fiscal agent, received revenue, issued notes, and made payments for the government. The Federal Reserve System has twelve Reserve Banks scattered throughout the country. The Federal Reserve System today is not quite the same as it was when created in 1913 as it has undergone some overhaul. Among other responsibilities, “the Fed,” as it is often called, has been charged with controlling the money supply for the purpose of promoting economic stability. Supervising the Federal Reserve System today is a seven member Board of Governors who are appointed by the President with Senate approval. Among the Federal Reserve’s duties today are: (1) conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates; and (2) supervising and regulating banking institutions to ensure the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking and financial system and to protect the credit rights of consumers.
Theodore Roosevelt is regarded among historians as the nation’s “conservation President.” The conservation and preservation of the nation’s natural resources had increasingly become of major concern to Roosevelt. During his presidency (1901-1908), Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U. S. Forest Service and establishing bird reservations, game preserves, national forests, and national parks. In 1906, he persuaded Congress to pass the American Antiquities Act which Roosevelt used to create several National Monuments. There was a growing recognition, however, in the early years of the 20th century that parks, battlefields, archeological sites, Indian ruins and artifacts, and other natural wonders needed to be protected as the population grew and the nation’s treasures became accessible to more people. In the beginning, the parks, etc. were under the management of the state where they were located or the U. S. Army. The nation’s natural treasures were poorly or ineffectively managed. For this reason, individuals and groups began to lobby for the U. S. to create a single national agency with the responsibility for managing and conserving them. Congress eventually passed the National Park Service Act of 1916. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, signed the bill into law. The caption of the Act explains its purpose: “An Act to establish a National Park Service, and for other purposes.” The law goes on to provide that the National Park Service is created “to regulate national parks, preserves, and monuments in order to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Today, the National Park Service has under its care 21 different types of units, 401 units in all, including national parks such as Yellowstone, historical parks, military parks, memorials, scenic trails, recreation areas, and sites such as the White House and the National Mall in Washington, D. C.