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United States Department of Health and Human Services
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Historical Highlights

The roots of the Department of Health and Human Services go back to the earliest days of the nation:

1798

Passage of an act for the relief of sick and disabled seamen, which established a federal network of hospitals for the care of merchant seamen, forerunner of today's U.S. Public Health Service.

1862

President Lincoln appointed a chemist, Charles M. Wetherill, to serve in the new Department of Agriculture. This was the beginning of the Bureau of Chemistry, forerunner to the Food and Drug Administration.

1871

Appointment of the first Supervising Surgeon (later called Surgeon General) for the Marine Hospital Service, which had been organized the prior year.

1878

Passage of the National Quarantine Act began the transfer of quarantine functions from the states to the federal Marine Hospital Service.

1887

The federal government opened a one-room laboratory on Staten Island for research on disease, thereby planting the seed that was to grow into the National Institutes of Health.

1891

Passage of immigration legislation, assigning to the Marine Hospital Service the responsibility for medical examination of arriving immigrants.

1902

Conversion of Marine Hospital Service into the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service in recognition of its expanding activities in the field of public health. In 1912, the name was shortened to the Public Health Service.

1906

Congress passed the Pure Food and Drugs Act, authorizing the government to monitor the purity of foods and the safety of medicines, now a responsibility of the FDA.

1912

President Theodore Roosevelt's first White House Conference urged creation of the Children's Bureau to combat exploitation of children.

1921

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Health Division was created, the forerunner to the Indian Health Service.

1930

Creation of the National Institute (late Institutes) of Health, out of the Public Health Service's Hygenic Laboratory.

1935

Passage of the Social Security Act.

1938

Passage of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

1939

The Federal Security Agency was created, bringing together related federal activities in the fields of health, education and social insurance.

1946

The Communicable Disease Center was established, forerunner of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Cabinet-level Department of Health, Education and Welfare was created under President Eisenhower, officially coming into existence April 11, 1953. In 1979, the Department of Education Organization Act was signed into law, providing for a separate Department of Education. HEW became the Department of Health and Human Services, officially arriving on May 4, 1980. Some highlight dates in HEW and HHS history:

1955

Licensing of the Salk polio vaccine.
The Indian Health Service was transferred to HHS from the Department of Interior.

1961

First White House Conference on Aging.

1962

Passage of the Migrant Health Act, providing support for clinics serving agricultural workers.

1964

Release of the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health.

1965

Creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, making comprehensive health care available to millions of Americans.
Also in 1965, the Older Americans Act created the nutritional and social programs administered by HHS’ Administration on Aging.
In addition, the Head Start program was created.

1966

International Smallpox Eradication program established -- led by the U.S. Public Health Service, the worldwide eradication of smallpox was accomplished in 1977.
Also in 1966, the Community Health Center and Migrant Health Center programs were launched.

1970

Creation of the National Health Service Corps.

1971

National Cancer Act signed into law.

1975

Child Support Enforcement program established.

1977

Creation of the Health Care Financing Administration to manage Medicare and Medicaid separately from the Social Security Administration.

1980

Federal funding provided to states for foster care and adoption assistance.

1981

Identification of AIDS. In 1984, the HIV virus was identified by PHS and French scientists. In 1985, a blood test to detect HIV was licensed.

1984

National Organ Transplantation Act signed into law.

1988

Creation of the JOBS program and federal support for child care.
Passage of the McKinney Act to provide health care to the homeless.

1989

Creation of the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (now the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).

1990

Human Genome Project established.

Passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, authorizing the food label.
Also, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency (CARE) Act began providing support for people with AIDS.

1993

The Vaccines for Children Program is established, providing free immunizations to all children in low-income families.

1995

The Social Security Administration became an independent agency.

1996

Enactment of welfare reform under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.
Enactment of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

1997

Creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), enabling states to extend health coverage to more uninsured children.

1999

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 is signed, making it possible for millions of Americans with disabilities to join the workforce without fear of losing their Medicaid and Medicare coverage. It also modernizes the employment services system for people with disabilities.

Initiative on combating bioterrorism is launched.

2000

Publication of human genome sequencing.

2001

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid is created, replacing the Health Care Financing Administration.
HHS responds to the nation’s first bioterrorism attack -- delivery of anthrax through the mail.

2002

Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness created to coordinate efforts against bioterrorism and other emergency health threats.

2003

Enactment of the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, the most significant expansion of Medicare since its enactment, including a prescription drug benefit.

Secretaries of HEW and HHS

April 11, 1953 - July 31, 1955

  • Oveta Culp Hobby

August 1, 1955 - July 31, 1958

  • Marion B. Folsom

August 1, 1958 - January 19, 196

  • Arthur S. Flemming

January 21, 1961 - July 13, 1962

  • Abraham Ribicoff

July 31, 1962 - August 17, 1965

  • Anthony J. Celebrezze

August 18, 1965 - March 1, 1968

  • John W. Gardner

May 16, 1968 - January 20, 1969

  • Wilbur J. Cohen

January 21, 1969 - June 23, 1970

  • Robert H. Finch

June 24, 1970 - January 29, 1973

  • Elliot L. Richardson

February 12, 1973 - August 8, 1975

  • Caspar W. Weinberger

August 8, 1975 - January 20, 1977

  • David Mathews

January 25, 1977 - August 3, 1979

  • Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

August 3, 1979 - January 20, 1981

  • Patricia Roberts Harris

January 22, 1981 - February 3, 1983

  • Richard S. Schweiker

March 9, 1983 - December 13, 1985

  • Margaret M. Heckler

December 13, 1985 - January 20, 1989

  • Otis R. Bowen, M.D.

March 1, 1989 - January 20, 1993

  • Louis W. Sullivan, M.D

January 22, 1993 - January 20, 2001

  • Donna E. Shalala

February 2, 2001 -

  • Tommy G. Thompson

Last revised: April 22, 2004

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