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Purdue’s first Chemistry professor featured in PBS TV program


Writer(s): Steve Scherer


Harvey Washington Wiley’s persistent pursuit to regulate the safety of food and drugs during the turn of the last century is featured in PBS’s TV program, American Experience.

Wiley was Purdue’s first Chemistry professor and Indiana's first state chemist.

In 1874, he was among Purdue's original faculty members and conducted research into food adulteration and the use of sugar substitutes.

The PBS American Experience episode, “The Poison Squad,” focuses on his post-Purdue career as head chemist of the Division of Chemistry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture where Wiley embarked upon a series of bold and controversial trials on 12 human subjects who would become known as the “Poison Squad.”

Telling the story of Wiley’s unusual experiments and tireless advocacy, the film follows his groundwork for the first U.S. consumer protection laws, and ultimately the creation of the FDA.

Viewers can watch the program on PBS’s American Experience site.

Wiley was at Purdue for nine years, where in addition to his work in Chemistry, he was the business manager of the first student newspaper on campus, commander of the first corps of cadets at Purdue, and organized the first baseball and football squads.

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