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Carl L. Alsberg

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Dr. Carl L. Alsberg

2nd Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

In Office:

December 16, 1912 - July 15, 1921

Preceded by: Dr. Harvey W. Wiley

Succeeded by: Dr. Charles A. Browne

Dr. Carl Lucas Alsberg, MD. (April 2, 1877 - November 1, 1940) was an American chemist and 2nd commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, then known as the Bureau of Chemistry. Alsberg was the youngest ever head of the Bureau of Chemistry.[1]



Alsberg was born in New York in 1844. He received his M.D. from Columbia in 1900.


Alsberg was working as a biochemist of the Bureau of Plant Industry when he was chosen by the Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson, and approved by President Taft to succeed Harvey W. Wiley as the head of the Bureau of Chemistry.[2] Wiley had resigned nearly 6 months before leaving Dr. R. E. Doolittle as interim head.

Alsberg was not one of the original prospects for the position. In fact, his appointment was a shock to many including Wiley who said "Dr. Alsberg comes to his responsible position without any experience whatever in the executive duties which will occupy his time and abilities." Wiley was shocked that neither Dr. Bigelow, Dr. H. E. Barnard, nor Dr. R. E. Doolittle had been chosen.[3]

FDA Commissioner

Alsberg served as the head of the Bureau of Chemistry from December 16, 1912 to July 15, 1921. During his administration a greater focus was given to drug regulation, research, and an enforcement philosophy that relied more on education and persuasion than prosecution.[4]

Resignation to Retirement

Alsberg resigned from the Bureau of Chemistry in 1921 to join the faculty of Stanford, where he was Director of the Food Research Institute from 1921 until his retirement.[5] In a letter thanking him for his work, Secretary Wallace said that Alsberg's administration of the food and drug act was characterized by "tactfulness, fearlessness, justice, and confidence."[6] After his resignation, Alsberg continued to write and publish works on truth in labeling (adulteration),

Select Publications

  • Alsberg, Carl L. "Combination in the American Bread Industry." The Economic Journal, Vol. 37, No. 145 (Mar., 1927), pp. 105-107.u
  • Alsberg, Carl. Standards of Living As a Factor in International Relations. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1931-1939), Vol. 16, No. 6 (Nov., 1937), pp. 920-937


  • "Unlike the British practice, we make the distinction that anybody who is in public life and alive is a politician, and anybody who is dead is a statesman."


  1. "Carl L. Alsberg, M.D. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed on June 2, 2008.
  2. "Carl L. Alsberg, M.D. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed on June 2, 2008.
  3. Wiley, H.W. "DR. WILEY COMPARES ALSBERG TO DUNLAP; Hopes for the Best, but Says Dunlap's Career "Is Well Known." The New York Times. January 1, 1913. Accessed on June 2, 2008.
  4. "Carl L. Alsberg, M.D. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed on June 2, 2008.
  5. "Carl L. Alsberg, M.D. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed on June 2, 2008.
  6. "Dr. Carl L. Alsberg and the Bureau of Chemistry." Science, New Series, Vol. 54, No. 1394 (Sep. 16, 1921), pp. 244-244