The Journal of Economic History


The First Line of Defense: Inventing the Infrastructure to Combat Animal Diseases

Alan L. Olmsteada1

a1 Distinguished Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute of Governmental Affairs, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616-8617. E-mail:


Control of livestock disease had large spillover effects on human health. By 1900 the United States was a leader in livestock disease control, thanks to the efforts of the Bureau of Animal Industry. Its first chief, Daniel Salmon, established a model that would be copied around the world in campaigns against human and animal diseases. For the most part, the Progressive Era regulations to advance livestock health and food safety were spectacular successes. The bureau's main blunder was its failure to deal effectively with trichinosis, which was far more widespread than generally believed.


This article is a revised version of his presidential address at the 2008 meeting of the Economic History Association, 12–14 September 2008 in New Haven, CT.

I have benefited immensely from my long-standing collaboration with Paul Rhode. Julian Alston, James Fenske, Philip Hoffman, Christopher Polage, Clive Spinage, Myron Schultz, Peter Schantz, and James Steele all provided valuable advice. I am indebted to Jeffrey Graham, who served as my research assistant on this project and to Shelagh Mackay for editorial assistance.