Earlier today I noted that today is the 246th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Here we see an extraordinary allusion to that 1773 event: a 1906 Puck magazine centerfold depicting “The American dope party.” Puck began publication in 1877 and ended its run four decades later in 1918. Those who live in New York City may know the Puck Building on Houston Street just east of Broadway. That ornate structure is testimony to the magazine’s financial as well as cultural success. Puck was hugely influential and never afraid to take on all-comers, including the likes of Tammany Hall, industrial titans, robber barons, monopolists, grifters, and just plain cronies of whatever stripe. The magazine neatly coincided with the rise of Theodore Roosevelt, who appeared for good and ill on the cover more than eighty times over the decades.
For most of its long run Puck included a political cartoon centerfold. The one we see here does not depict Roosevelt himself, but does capture an issue close to his heart: his attempts to strengthen the nation’s food and drug laws. Many reformers were active in the cause of ending food and medicine adulteration. A government scientist named Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley created a Poison Squad in 1902 to eliminate Borax, formaldehyde, and other “preservatives” from the food supply. Though removed from the formula for Coca-Cola in 1903, cocaine itself remained legal in the United States until 1914; many Americans used that drug for medical purposes, but many others abused it as well. Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, his expose of the meat industry, in February 1906. Puck printed this centerfield on June 27, 1906 of “Indians” dumping unhealthy food, medicine, clothing, and “dope” into the harbor. The subtitle in small print at the bottom reads: “A Lesson in Practical Patriotism Taught by the Boston Tea Party.” It was into this milieu that President Theodore Roosevelt stepped to reform the food and drug industries during his administration.
The political and social pressure worked. That summer of 1906 Congress passed the The Pure Food and Drug Act creating the Food and Drug Administration. President Roosevelt signed both that and the Federal Meat Inspection Act on June 30, the same week this cartoon appeared.
(image/Library of Congress)