When you buy a gallon of milk today in the United States, you do so without the fear that it might kill you.
The same is true for when you open up a can of vegetables or a can of meat, or a can of any food product; you do so without the fear that what you’re about to eat, won’t kill you.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Upton Sinclair wrote a book that changed how people felt about meatpackers and the food industry in general as THE JUNGLE, a best-seller at the time of its release in 1906 outlined in detail the lack of sanitary conditions in the production plants that brought beef, pork, and sausage to America’s kitchen tables. THE JUNGLE outlined problems that a chemist/physician/author/professor by the name of Harvey Washington Wiley had been trying to get Congress to address for more than two decades. Wiley had come close to securing legislation to address conditions that were so foul, such as the grinding up of human remains into sausage links, that even staunch business advocates and lobbyists for the likes of Armour, Cudahy, Wilson and Swift could no longer sugar coat that revelation when it appeared in THE JUNGLE; nor could Congress, nor the American public, nor America’s mothers who would no longer tolerate the lapse of good business by the powerful industrialists.
Harvey Washington Wiley didn’t give up when he tried to get a food safety bill passed. His detractors cited a loss of business and in turn jobs for American workers if the use of chemicals, such as Borax, were forbidden in the canning and packaging of meat. The lobbyists enlisted the papers to malign Wiley as un-American and too progressive, much like what happens today to those who advocate for clean green energy. But Wiley, one very obsessive determined individual found an ally in the woman’s suffragette movement. Although women couldn’t vote, they could influence their husbands and they did control the power of the purse when it came to purchasing the weekly groceries.
Wiley also found a food manufacturer, Heinz of Heinz 57 fame, who embraced Wiley’s ideas and saw the advantage in the opportunity to “clean-up” the industry of food processors. Heinz realized that if they manufactured their ketchup and other products without the use of harsh chemicals that could affect digestion and used “pure” food ingredients, the mothers of America would embrace their offerings and buy “pure,” over tainted any day. Heinz found that their sales skyrocketed from an ad campaign featuring their workers, many of them women, dressed in hairnets and sanitary uniforms at work stations that emphasized cleanliness, a form of Godliness that any mom could relate to.
Teddy Roosevelt noticed when women in western states that had the right to vote, made it known that they and mothers throughout the U.S. would not tolerate conditions that were simply awful for workers as well as consumers. With TR’s backing in 1906, The Pure Food & Drug Act was finally passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The newspapers, the major media venue of the time, also saw the writing on the wall and began to back Wiley in spite of attempts by the lobbyists to paint the man as less than patriotic. TR tried to take credit for the legislation, but the public responded differently calling the new legislation, “Wiley’s Law.”
Wiley eventually got pushed aside by President Taft and other powerful Senators who found the man too progressive in his obsession to impose even further regulations for food safety. But a popular magazine offered Wiley an ideal position as their editor regarding health and food topics that eventually lead to his creation of what we now know as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Women were influenced by that affirmation when they selected products that they bought for their home and families.
Harvey Washington Wiley is a man with a great legacy even if today he gets very little credit for his determination and will to GO DO GOOD when it came to keeping Americans safe then and now.
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