Public Health Service Established In The US
The US colonies in the 17th century were seaports on the Atlantic Coast with outlying small towns. They had local sanitation laws and were keenly aware of disease carried by ships and sailors. In 1699 Philadelphia traced it first yellow fever epidemic to a ship from Barbados and passed “An act to prevent Sickly Vessels from Coming into this Government.” During the 1700’s “health officers” were appointed by communities to enforce maritime quarantine laws. Ships suspected of carrying contagious disease were held in isolation for a period of 40 days. To show this quarantine, ships were required to fly a yellow flag.
After the Civil War there were 27 Marine Hospitals and the need to organize was apparent. In June 1870 President Grant signed a bill establishing a Bureau of the US Marine Hospital Service and created a Supervising Surgeon. He set up through the Department of State a reporting system on epidemics overseas and designed a seal and flag.
In August 1887 the first public health research center, the “Laboratory of Hygiene” at the Marine Hospital on Staten Island was established. A Congressional Act in July 1902 provided specifically for the organization and management of the Hygienic Laboratory “for the investigation of infectious diseases and matters pertaining to the public health.” The name of the Marine Hospital Service was changed to the “Public Health and Marine Hospital Service.”
On August 14, 1912 a new law changed the name from the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service to simply the “Public Health Service.” The seal and flag of the organization were modified to incorporate the quarantine flag yellow of the past.