History



For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country. Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in health care delivery to underserved and vulnerable populations, disease control and prevention, biomedical research, food and drug regulation, mental health and drug abuse services, and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters as an essential component of the largest public health program in the world.

Commissioned Corps Timeline
                        1798—John Adams, the second president of the United States, signed into law the “Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” A year later, Congress extended the Act to cover every officer and sailor in the U.S. Navy. The Act led to the gradual creation of a network of marine hospitals along coastal and inland waterways. 
                        Content Source: USPHS.gov
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine 

                        1801 - The first marine hospital owned by the Federal government was located at Washington Point in Virginia. Other early marine hospitals were established in the port cities of Boston, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Charleston, South Carolina. 
                        Content Source: National Library of Medicine
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine
 
                        1870—Hospital administration was centralized in the Marine Hospital Service, with its headquarters in Washington, DC, under the position of supervising surgeon (later called surgeon general). 
                        Content Source:  USPHS.gov
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine

                        1871—John Maynard Woodworth, the first supervising surgeon, adopted a military model for his medical staff as part of system reform. Woodworth instituted examinations for applicants and implemented required uniforms for physicians.  He created a cadre of mobile, career-service physicians assigned to various marine hospitals. 
                        Content Source: USPHS.gov
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine 


                        1878—The prevalence of major epidemic diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever across the globe spurred Congress to enact the National Quarantine Act to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious and infectious diseases in the United States. The task of controlling epidemic diseases through quarantine and disinfection measures, as well as immunization programs, within the country fell to the Marine Hospital Service, such as these Public Health Service officers in uniform at the Montauk Point, New York Quarantine Station. 
                        Content Source: USPHS.gov 
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine 

                        1889—An Act of Congress established the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service and formalized the Commissioned Corps as the uniformed services component of the Marine Hospital Service. Congress organized Corps officers along military lines with titles and pay corresponding to Army and Navy grades. 
                        Content Source: USPHS.gov
                        Photo Source: flu.gov

                        1902—The Marine Hospital Service expanded to the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service to reflect growing responsibilities. Officers continued to carry out quarantine duties, which now included the medical inspection of arriving immigrants, such as those landing at Ellis Island in New York. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service officers played a major role in fulfilling the commitment to prevent disease from entering the country. 
                        Content Source: USPHS.gov
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine 

                        1912—The name of the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service was shortened to the Public Health Service (PHS). Legislation enacted by Congress broadened the powers of the PHS by authorizing investigations into human diseases (such as tuberculosis, hookworm, malaria, and leprosy), sanitation, water supplies, and sewage disposal. 
                        Content Source: USPHS.gov
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine

                        1936 – Surgeon General Thomas Parran led the fight against venereal disease and paved the way for modern public health organizations. He strengthened and extended the research programs at the National Institutes of Health, established the Communicable Disease Center (later Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and participated in the planning of the World Health Organization. 
                        Content Source: National Library of Medicine 
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine

                        1944—The PHS Act of 1944 broadened the scope of the Commissioned Corps, allowing for the commissioning of nurses, scientists, dieticians, physical therapists, and sanitarians (later health service officers). From 1940 to 1945, the Commissioned Corps quadrupled its numbers from 625 officers to 2,600.
                        Content Source: USPHS.gov/ Fitzhugh Mullan, Plagues and Politics: The Story of the United States Public Health Service (1989).
                        Photo Source: National Library of Medicine

                        1964 –Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry released a landmark report that concluded that lung cancer and chronic bronchitis are causally related to cigarette smoking.  The report was the first such analysis that laid out the effects of tobacco and smoking and it spurred initiatives to lower tobacco use among Americans. 
                        Content Source: SurgeonGeneral.gov
                        Photo Source: CDC.gov

                        1986 –Dr. C. Everett Koop served as Surgeon General as the nation began to recognize AIDS as a new and deadly disease. Koop became the chief Federal spokesperson on AIDS and released a report on AIDS that contributed significantly to providing information on this disease. Koop also wrote

All photos are courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and/or the Department of Health and Human Services. The following sources were used in the development of the timeline content: U.S. National Library of Medicine, SurgeonGeneral.gov and Fitzhugh Mullan, Plagues and Politics: The Story of the United States Public Health Service (1989).

Page Last Modified on 9/5/2014