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Antiquity 3000 BCE - 90 CE

2696 BCE

Shen Nung - The Father of Chinese medicine. He was noted for tasting 365 herbs and was said to have died of a toxic overdose.

1500 BCE

Ebers Papyrus - Egyptian records contained 110 pages on anatomy and physiology, toxicology, spells, and treatment recorded on papyrus.

1400 BCE

Gula - Sumerian texts referred to a female deity, Gula. This mythological figure was associated with charms, spells, and poisons.

850 BCE

Homer - Wrote of the use of arrows poisoned with venom (toxikon) in the epic tales The Odyssey and The Iliad.

399 BCE

Socrates - The philosopher, charged with religious heresy and with corrupting the morals of local youth, died by hemlock poisoning (the active chemical is the alkaloid coniine).

377 BCE

Hippocrates - The Greek physician and founder of modern medicine established an observational approach to human disease and treatment; he also named cancer after the creeping crab.

356 BCE

Alexander the Great - Some believe that the Macedonian leader was poisoned by either hellebore or strychnine on June 11, 323 BCE.

131 BCE

Mithridates VI - The King of Pontus in Asia Minor tested antidotes to poisons on himself and used prisoners as guinea pigs. He also created mixtures of substances, which lead to the term mithridatic.

82 BCE

L. Cornelius Sulla - The Roman general and leader stated "Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficis." This law made it illegal for people, including prisoners, to be poisoned, and also prohibited buying, selling, or possessing poisons.

69 BCE

Cleopatra - The Egyptian queen experimented with strychnine and other poisons on prisoners and the poor. She committed suicide by the bite of the Egyptian Asp.

40 CE

Pedanius Dioscorides - The Greek pharmacologist and Physician wrote De Materia Medica, which is the basis for the modern pharmacopeia.

79 CE

Mount Vesuvius - Erupted on August 24th, destroying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and burying them in ash. Pliny the Elder suffocated from volcanic gases.

2nd Century CE

Aulus Cornelius Celsus - The Roman Encyclopedist and possibly physician wrote De Medicina, one of the best sources of Alexandrian medical knowledge.



Middle Ages 476 CE - 1453

673 CE

Greek Fire - Ancient "napalm" described by the Crusaders as consisting of naptha, quicklime, sulphur, and saltpeter.

994 CE

Ergot Outbreak - 40,000 people in France died from eating contaminated wheat/rye that caused gangrene known as St. Anthony's Fire.


Moses Maimonides - The Jewish philosopher and physician wrote the Treatise on Poisons and Their Antidotes.


Albertus Magnus - The Dominican friar wrote extensively on the compatibility of religion and science and isolated arsenic in 1250.


Raymundus Lullus - The Spanish chemist discovered ether, which was later called "sweet vitriol."


The Knights Templar - (1118-1307) This Christian military order was alleged to be experts with poisons. They searched for the "Elixir of Life."


Pietro de' Abano - (1250-1315) The Italian scholar translated Hippocrates and Galen into Latin and wrote a book on poisons, De Venenis.


The Black Death - (1347-1351) The Bubonic and pneumonic plagues ravaged Europe; this was the largest pandemic in recorded history.


Venetian Council of Ten- This political body carried out murders with poison for a fee.


Zhou Man - The Chinese explorer lost thousands of crew members to uranium exposure while mining lead in Jabiru, Australia.


Rodrigo & Cesare Borgia (1400-1500) - The Borgias poisoned many people in Italy for political and monetary gain. They used arsenic in a concoction called La Cantrella.



Renaissance 14th-16th Centuries


Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) - da Vinci experimented with bioaccumulation of poisons in animals and called the procedure "passages."


Pope Clement VII (1478-1534) - The pope died (was possibly murdered) after eating Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom.


Paracelsus (1493-1541) - Paracelsus stated: "All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy."


Georgius Agricola (1494-1555) - Agricola wrote De Re Metallica, published in 1556. This was the most comprehensive book to date on mining and metallurgy.


Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) - Queen of France and expert assassin, she tested poisons on the poor and the sick.


Jean Nicot (1530 - 1600) - The French diplomat and scholar brought the tobacco plant to Europe. nicotine is named after him.


William Piso - Piso, while in Brazil, was the first to study the effects of Cephaelis ipecacuanha, used as an emetic and to treat dysentery.


William Shakespeare (1564-1616) - Shakespeare made an early reference to poisoning in the 16th century with his play Romeo and Juliet in act 5:

Come bitter pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark!
Here's to my love! O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.


Bernardino Ramazzini - The Italian physician was one of the first to make the link between worker occupation and health, which he documented in his book De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (Diseases of Workers).


Hieronyma Spara - This Roman woman and fortune teller formed a secret organization that sold an arsenic elixir to women so they could murder their husbands.


Guilia Tophania (1635-1719) - Tophania was a supplier of poison to wives who wanted to be widows. To stop the murder incidents from continuing, King Louis XIV passed a decree forbidding the sale of poisons from apothecaries to unknown persons.


Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin (1640-1680) - This accused French sorcerer and convicted poisoner was burned at the stake.


King Louis XIV - Passed a royal decree forbidding apothecaries from selling arsenic or poisonous substances to unknown people.





Devonshire Colic - A high incidence of lead colic, caused by contaminated cider, occurred in Devonshire, England.


John Jones - The English doctor wrote The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd, which described opium's medical benefits, as well as withdrawal symptoms and addiction.


Richard Meade (1673-1754) - Wrote A Mechanical Account of Poisons, dedicated to poisonous animals and plants.


Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1760) - The Swedish apothecary and chemist discovered oxygen, barium, chlorine, manganese, and hydrogen cyanide.


Benjamin Rush (1745-1813)  - Among the Founding Fathers of the United States, he published first American chemistry textbook.


Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (April 10, 1755 in Meiben, Saxony - July 2, 1843 in Paris, France) was a German physician who founded homeopathic medicine.


Percivall Pott (1714-1788) - The British physician discovered the link between occupational carcinogens and scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps.


Felice Fontana - The Italian chemist and physiologist was the first to study venomous snakes. He discovered that viper venom affects blood.


Bernard Courtois - The French chemist discovered iodine in 1811 and later isolated morphine.


Friedrich Serturner (1783-1841) - Isolated an alkaloid from the opium poppy in 1803. He named it morphine after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.


Francois Magendie (1783-1855) - Magendie, called the father of experimental pharmacology, discovered emetine and studied the effects of strychnine and cyanide.


Fowler's Solution (1786-1936) - This potassium arsenite solution was prescribed as a general tonic and used from about 1786 to 1936. It may have been used by Charles Darwin.


Pierre Ordinaire (1797-1915) - Ordinaire created an elixir using absinthe, which was popularized and sold by Henry Pernod. Absinthe was used by Vincent Van Gogh and banned in 1915. Users of absinthe were the subject of painters such as Degas.


Mathieu J. B. Orfila (1787-1853) - Considered the father of modern toxicology, in 1813 he published Traite des Poisons, which described the symptoms of poisons.





Joseph Caventou and Pierre Pelletier - The French pharmacists isolated quinine from the bark of the Cinchona tree.


Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859) - The English writer became addicted to opium in the early 1800s and published Confessions of an Opium Eater in 1821.


Napoleon Bonaparte - Napoleon died on May 5, 1821. He was suspected of being poisoned with arsenic.


Edward Jukes & F. Bush - In 1822 Edward Jukes and F. Bush simultaneously invented gastric lavage. They both experimented with the removal of opium and other poisons from the stomach using plastic tubing and a syringe.


Robert Christison (1797-1882) - The toxicologist at University of Edinburgh wrote the Treatise on Poisons in 1829 and invented a poisonous harpoon for whaling containing prussic acid.


Claude Bernard (1813-1878) - This French physiologist studied the effects of carbon monoxide and curare. He was influenced by Francois Magendie.


Alfred Nobel (1853-1896) - Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer, and the inventor of dynamite.


James Marsh (1794-1846) - This chemist developed and perfected the Marsh test for arsenic. The improved Marsh test was used forensically for the first time in 1840 during the trial of Marie Lafarge.


Heinrich Hoffman  - A general practitioner from Frankfurt, Hoffman described Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 1845.


Ira Remsen, along with Constantin Fahlberg, discovered Saccharin in 1879.


Ascanio Sobrero (1812-1888) - The Italian chemist discovered nitroglycerin, a powerful explosive and vasodilator. Alfred Nobel was his student.


Arsenic Act of 1851 required arsenic to be colored with soot or indigo to prevent "accidental" poisoning.


Friedrich Gaedcke - Gaedcke isolated cocaine from the South American plant Erythroxylon coca.


Louis Lewin (1850-1929) - The German pharmacologist studied and classified hallucinogenic plants, alcohols, and other psychoactive compounds.


William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was the chief proponent of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which regulated and taxed the production, importation, distribution, and use of opiates.


Abraham Jacobi (1830-1919) is considered the father of pediatrics.


Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, a British writer who wrote The Uncrowned Queen of Iraq, committed suicide by taking sleeping pills after returning to England.


Theodore Wormley (1826-1897) - Wormley wrote the first American book dedicated to poisons, Microchemistry of Poisons.


Constantin Fahlberg - Fahlberg discovered Saccharin while working in the laboratory of Ira Remsen.


Robert Koch - The German physician described numerous microbes and developed Koch's postulates that define causation.


Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) - Leopold was the United States' first bioethicist and author of A Sand County Almanac.


Emil Fischer (1852-1919) - Fischer isolated the stimulant caffeine from plant extracts in 1895.


Henri Becquerel was a French physicist and Nobel laureate who discovered radioactivitywhile investigating phosphorescence in uranium salts.





Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and Henri Becquerel received the Nobel Prize in Physics "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena."


Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) - Sinclair published The Jungle, which chronicled the unsanitary conditions in Chicago's meat packing industry.


Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) - This law prevented the production or trafficking of mislabeled, adulterated, or poisonous foods, Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, medicines, and liquors. Harvey Washington Wiley, M.D. (1844-1930) provided leadership in the passage of the Act and became the first commissioner of the FDA.


Alois Alzheimer (June 14, 1864 - December 19, 1915) was a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist who first defined Alzheimer's Disease on November 3, 1906.


Sir William Richard Shaboe Doll (October 28, 1912 - July 24, 2005) was a British epidemiologist and physiologist who was a pioneer in research linking smoking to health problems.


Harrison Narcotics Tax Act - William Jennings Bryan was the chief proponent of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, which regulated and taxed the production, importation, distribution, and use of opiates.


Chemical Warfare A Reality - German chemist Fritz Haber (1868-1934) developed chlorine and cyanide gases, which were used as blistering agents in WWI.


Gaylord Nelson (June 4, 1916 - July 3, 2005), a Democratic American politician from Wisconsin, played a large role in the founding of Earth Day on April 22, 1970


Fritz Haber received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his development of synthetic ammonia, important for fertilizers and explosives.


U.S. Prohibition - This 1919-1933 law made the production and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal but very profitable.


Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen (March 27, 1845 - February 10, 1923) - The German physicist produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range today known as x-rays or Röntgen rays. This achievement earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 .


Geneva Protocol - The protocol banned the use of chemical weapons. It was updated in 1993 as the "Chemical Weapons Convention" to also ban the production of chemical weapons.


Ginger Jake - This alcoholic tonic produced illegally during prohibition was adulterated with tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate (TOCP) and produced organophosphate-induced delayed neuropathy (OPIDN, also called Jake Leg), which affected 50,000 adults.


Hawk's Nest Incident Hundreds of African-American workers died between 1927 and 1935 from acute silicosis while digging a tunnel for a hydroelectric project for Union Carbide.


Gerhard Schrader (1903-1990) - The German chemistinsecticides composed nerve agents while working on developing insecticides


Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - This agency was established in 1930 to regulate the content and safety of consumer drugs and food.


Elixir Sulfanilamide - Over 100 people, many of them children, died when Elixir Sulfanilamide containing diethylene glycol was distributed without testing.


Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 - This Act made it a federal criminal offense to possess, produce, or dispense hemp. Non-medical uses were prohibited in California (1915) and Texas (1919).


Albert Hofmannsynthesized Lysergic acid (LSD) in the Sandoz Laboratory (now Novartis). In 1943, Hoffman tested LSD on himself.


Norman Haworth was a British chemist who received the Nobel Prize in 1937 for his work on ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and the structures of carbohydrates.


DDT - DDT was recognized as an insecticide by the Swiss scientist Paul Hermann Muller. Muller was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. DDT was banned in 1972.





Juda Hirsch Quastel - The British-Canadian biochemist pioneered research in numerous fields including neurochemistry, soil metabolism, cell metabolism, and Cancer. He discovered one of the first systemic or hormone herbicides, 2,4-D, in 1946.


Thomas Midgley, Jr. (May 18, 1889 - November 2, 1944). The American chemist developed both the tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) additive to gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).


Sir Austin Bradford Hill - The English epidemiologist and statistician pioneered the randomized clinical trial and, together with Richard Doll, was the first to demonstrate the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer in 1950 papers.


Minamata (1950s) - Minamata Bay, in Japan, was contaminated with mercury by a chemical plant. Thousands of adults and children were poisoned from eating fish contaminated with methyl mercury.


London Great Smog - Also referred to as the Big Smoke, the London Great Smog between December 5 and December 9, 1952 caused or advanced the death of as many as 12,000 people and was an impetus to the modern environmental movement.


Poison Control Centers - The first Center was opened in Chicago in 1953, the second at Duke University, North Carolina, in 1954, and the third in Boston in 1955.


Journal of Tox. & App. Pharmacology - The journal was adopted by the Society of Toxicology (SOT) until 1981, when SOT founded Fundamentals of Applied Toxicology.


Thalidomide (1959-1960s) - This drug, prescribed to pregnant women to treat symptoms of morning sickness and also used as a sedative, caused birth defects in an estimated 10,000 children. Frances Oldham Kelsey of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blocked the drug's approval in U.S.


Frances Oldham Kelsey - Francis Oldham Kelsey was a naturalized American pharmacologist most famous as the reviewer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who refused to authorize thalidomide for market because she had concerns about the drug's safety.


Arnold J. Lehman - He collaborated with other scientists in his field to produce the first large compilation of toxicology, Procedures for the Appraisal of the Toxicity of Chemicals in Foods. Lehman also was a co-founder of the Society of Toxicology and its journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.


Society of Toxicology - The professional society was founded on March 4, 1961 and the first formal meeting was held on April 15, 1962. It had 9 founders and 183 charter members.


Alice Hamilton (1869-1970) - This pathologist was the first female faculty member at Harvard Medical School. She drew links between work site chemical hazards and disease, specifically hazards from lead and rubber. 


Rachel Carson (1907-1964) - This scientist lead the crusade against the use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), a pesticide and persistent environmental contaminant. Carson wrote several books including Silent Spring, published in 1962.





 The Occupational Safety & Health Act was passed on December 29, 1970 to ensure every worker a safe and healthful workplace.


The Environmental Protection Agency was established. This branch of the U.S. federal government is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations to maintain clean air, land, and water and protecting the health of both people and the environment.


Earth Day - The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970.


The Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT) was founded by a group of forensic toxicologists led by Abe Freirich at the Nassau County Medical Examiners Office.


Arsenic Poisoning in Bangladesh (1970s) - Tubewells, drilled to provide clean drinking water, were contaminated by arsenic and millions of people were harmed.


Mr. Yuk - This symbol was adopted by the Pittsburgh Poison Center at the Children's Hospital in 1971. It was used to educate children and parents about poisons and to prevent accidental poisonings.


Iraq - Mercury - Pink-colored seed grain coated with a mercury fungicide was consumed by Iraqis, tragically affecting over 40,000 people.


First Modern Toxicology Textbook - Louis J. Casarett and John Doull edited Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons in 1975.


Love Canal Disaster - Residents in the Love Canal neighborhood, built on top of a landfill containing over 42 million pounds of chemical waste, experienced various health effects. U.S. President Jimmy Carter declared Love Canal a federal emergency on August 7, 1978. 


Church Rock Dam - On July 16, 1979 the dam at Church Rock Uranium Mill burst, releasing more than 1,100 tons of radioactive mill waste and 90 million gallons of contaminated liquid. This was the worst uranium accident in U.S. history.


American Board of Toxicology (ABT) -  The American Board of Toxicology (ABT) was founded in 1979 to establish a process to certify toxicologists and evaluate and document their competency in the field. The first board exam was given in August 1980.


International Union of Toxicology - The International Union of Toxicology was founded in Brussels, Belgium.


The International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics was founded. Xenobiotics refers to the study of substances typically foreign to living organisms, such as drugs and chemical contaminants, and how organisms work to process and expel such contaminants.


The Academy of Toxicological Sciences (ATS) was established with the purpose of certifying toxicologists who are recognized by their peers for their expertise and sound scientific judgment. The Academy awards the title of Fellow to experts who meet its requirements.


Tylenol Incident - In 1982, an unknown criminal killed seven people by contaminating Tylenol tablets with cyanide.


Times Beach - Dangerous levels of dioxin were discovered in soil in Times Beach, MO. EPA ordered an evacuation and made the town a Superfund site. All residents were relocated by 1985.


Bhopal Disaster - On December 3, the accidental release of 40 metric tons of methyl isocyanate from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the heart of the city of Bhopal, India, killed thousands and injured hundreds of thousands.


Chernobyl Accident - On April 26, a meltdown in one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant released a plume of radioactive debris that reached the Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the UK and the eastern USA.


Stella Nickell The Seattle-area resident was sentenced to 99 years in prison for murdering her husband by coating Excedrin capsules with cyanide. She poisoned several other people, killing one, in an attempt to make the crimes look like those of a serial killer.


Lake Nyos - In 1986, the lake released a large amount of carbon dioxide (which it contained due to carbon dioxide leaking from a magma pocket below it) and suffocated 1800 people and livestock in surrounding villages.


Rhine Valley Chemical Spill - On November 1, a fire at the Sandoz Laboratory released tons of toxic chemicals into the Rhine River in Basel, Switzerland.


Exxon Valdez Oil Spill - On March 24, 1989 the oil tanker Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef, spilling millions of gallons of oil into the enclosed Prince William Sound.


Libby, Montana -The Environmental Protection Agency warned that anyone living in this northwest Montana town for six months any time before January 1991 was most likely exposed to harmful levels of asbestos.


Pitohui - An account of the Pitohui, the only poisonous bird known to date, was first published in Science in October of 1992.


Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas Attack - Members of religious group Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas in 5 places in Tokyo subways, killing 12 and injuring 6,000.


Mercury Tragedy at Dartmouth - Dartmouth College professor and toxic chemical specialist Dr. Karen E. Wetterhahn was fatally poisoned by dimethylmercury.


Vioxx (1999-2004) - The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug for the treatment of osteoarthritis, produced by Merck & Co., was voluntarily withdrawn because of the risk of heart attack and stroke.


Van Rensselaer Potter, pioneer in the field of bioethics, died on September 6, 2001.


Anthrax Scare - On October 16, 2001, anthrax was found in US Congressional offices. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators; 5 people died and at least 17 were infected.


Ephedrine Ban - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted a ban on ephedrine alkaloids in 2004.


Alexander Litvinenko - Litvinenko, Russian ex-KGB colonel and ex-FSB lieutenant-colonel, died following exposure to polonium 210.


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