The Actual Origin Stories Behind Major Laws



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Over 200 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Actual Origin Stories Behind Major Laws
Voting Rules

Vote up the laws that truly met their moments.

Unfortunately, most laws aren't put in place until they have to be put in place (i.e., something bad has happened). Usually, an event causes such a public uproar that legislation is nearly forced into having to enact some kind of law.

The source of the public outcry can be many different things. It might be a massive tragedy - such as a fire - where hundreds of people perish. It might be a piece of literature that is so graphic, that its readers demand a change to the system. 

Or it might be the story of an ordinary woman who found a decomposing slug in the bottom of her glass. 

Regardless of the reason, the following laws were all important in creating the working and living conditions that we're accustomed to today. Vote up the ones you think were most essential. 

Photo: Lewis Hine; trialsanderrors / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.0

  • Huge Rates Of Cancer Diagnosis Among Uranium Miners Led To The OSHA Act
    Photo: Ульянов Виктор Семёнович / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    193 VOTES

    Huge Rates Of Cancer Diagnosis Among Uranium Miners Led To The OSHA Act

    Unsafe working conditions had long been a concern for American workers, particularly in mining settings. With poor ventilation and a high risk of accidents, miners were experiencing dangerous conditions every day they went to work. 

    This danger was highlighted in a damning report in 1960, which stated that veteran uranium miners suffered from lung cancer at five times the expected rate. However, uranium was a highly sought after substance, so change wasn't immediately made. 

    But proponents of workplace safety didn't stop. In his congressional testimony, Willard Wirtz, Lyndon Johnson's Labor Secretary, argued that more people had died in workplace-related accidents than in the Vietnam War. He estimated that three out of every four teenagers entering the workforce would suffer at least one disabling workplace injury in their lifetime. 

    However, public concern reached an all-time high after a coal mine explosion in West Virginia killed 78 people in 1968. Just a few months later, a large mine workers strike brought attention to another deadly disease miners were plagued with: black lung.

    Finally, in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed under President Nixon.  

    193 votes
  • The Pure Food And Drug Act Was Passed After A Disgusting Demonstration Given On The Congress Floor
    Photo: University of Washington / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    231 VOTES

    The Pure Food And Drug Act Was Passed After A Disgusting Demonstration Given On The Congress Floor

    There were two main catalysts to the Pure Food and Drug Act. First, was Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a book that depicted the horrific sanitary conditions of the meatpacking industry. This included meat being sold to the public that was rotten and contained rat droppings, sawdust, and chemicals. 

    The public outcry from this book was met with the introduction of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which would require stricter regulation of the quality of food. However, the Act was ignored (perhaps purposely) for months - until Representative James Mann of Illinois made an impassioned speech on its behalf. 

    In his rhetoric, Mann brought examples of the tainted food that Americans ate every day. Mann said

    I have here . . . a number of adulterated articles. Here is a bottle of cherries, originally picked green, in order that they might be firm, with the green color all taken out with acid until they were perfectly white, and then colored with an aniline dye which is poisonous in any quantity.

    This was enough to turn Congress' stomachs - and votes - in favor of the act, which prohibited the sale of misbranded or adulterated food and drugs.

    231 votes
  • 3
    172 VOTES

    The Tylenol Murders Of 1982 Forever Changed The Way Medication Was Sold

    If you were born after 1982, you're likely used to the foil seals that are over each medicine bottle you buy. If that seal is damaged or appears to be tampered with, we're taught to throw the bottle out. 

    Have you ever wondered why this is the case? Well, our tamper-proof lids were developed after a grisly set of murders.

    When a 12-year-old girl and young postal worker both died shortly after each other in Chicago, it started raising red flags for police. Shortly after, the postal worker's visiting brother and sister-in-law were found dead. The latter two died after complaining of a headache - and taking some Tylenol

    Tylenol ended up being the thread the police needed. Upon further investigation, all four people had died from capsules containing cyanide, which had been dropped into their Tylenol bottles. Within a week, three more people had died from these poisonous pills - and it caused a mass panic. 

    The manufacturer of Tylenol, Johnson and Johnson, quickly ordered a complete recall of every single Tylenol bottle in the country - over 31 million bottles. This gave police the time to figure out that someone had been hand-placing these tainted capsules into Tylenol bottles in Chicago pharmacies. 

    Despite a massive investigation, the culprit of the Chicago Tylenol murders was never found. The one good thing to come from this tragedy, however, was the tamper-proof design we see on all over-the-counter medical bottles today. 

    We can thank Johnson and Johnson for this invention - as they invested over $100 million to develop this innovative new safety feature. They even took their safety protocol a step further, creating a new caplet that couldn't simply be opened up like the old capsules. 

    172 votes
  • 4
    163 VOTES

    Expectant Mothers And Their Children Are Now Protected After A Bad Medicine Harmed 10,000 Babies

    On many medications today, you see the disclaimer, “Do not use if pregnant.” This implies that the medication is easy unsafe for the mother or the baby. 

    Well, this kind of safety issue wasn't common until after the 1950s, after thalidomide had harmed upwards of 10,000 babies across the globe. 

    Thalidomide was a medication used to treat the common cold, flu, nausea - and specifically morning sickness in pregnant women. After completing their initial testing, the manufacturers were so confident in their medicine that they specifically advertised it as safe for expectant mothers. 

    Soon the drug was available in 49 countries around the world - not including the United States. The FDA wasn't sold on the testing that was done, especially after patients claimed they developed nerve damage after taking the drug. 

    Despite the U.S.'s hesitancy, the medicine sold widely elsewhere in the world - for a full five years. During this time, officials started to discover that some newborn babies had odd symptoms - including problems with their eyesight, internal organs and brain, and even “flipper hands.” But with this wide range of issues, it was difficult to pin down the source. 

    When they finally found that thalidomide was the culprit, they pulled it off the shelves - but it's believed that upwards of 5,000 babies passed due to their exposure to the drug while in the womb. 

    After this discovery, new laws were implemented to ensure that expectant mothers and unborn babies were considered when testing new medications.  

    163 votes
  • 5
    144 VOTES

    A Mass Poisoning Led To The Creation Of The FDA

    The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has been around so long that we take its existence for granted. Yet, this regulatory body is less than 100 years old. And the story behind its creation is tragic. 

    Back in 1937, a medicine - Sulfanilamide - was found to be successful in treating a host of different ailments, such as strep throat and scarlet fever

    At first, this was a wonderful medical discovery. However, the trouble came when the drug was transformed into a new liquid form. At the time, the FDA didn't require toxicity testing when a proven, existing drug was simply being offered in a new form. 

    And to the scientists at the time, there was nothing harmful in the new concoction that would raise flags. It was the same medication, mixed with 70% DEG (diethylene glycol). DEG was thought to be harmless, so they ramped up production and shipped out the new liquid. 

    This oversight turned out to be deadly. It turned out that DEG is, in fact, very dangerous. So dangerous, that 105 people perished after ingesting this liquid elixir. 

    After the medical world realized what had happened, they teamed up with the administration to create a comprehensive overview of drug safety standards. This ultimately shifted the FDA's drug focus to what we know today. 

    144 votes
  • A Quack Medical Device Defined Modern Contract Law
    Photo: Carbolic Smoke Ball Company / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    150 VOTES

    A Quack Medical Device Defined Modern Contract Law

    We've all seen ads for products that seem too good to be true. Well, one company learned the hard way what happens when you overpromise and underdeliver. 

    In the late 1800s, the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company created a product that is essentially what we'd call a neti pot today (a container that clears the nasal passages). However, the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company was so confident in their product that they said that anyone who used it was immune to getting the flu. On top of that, in a newspaper advertisement, the company stated that would pay £100 to any customer who got the flu. 

    So, when Louisa Cargill caught the flu, she requested compensation. But the company refused to pay out - claiming the offer in the ad wasn't actually binding.

    The British Court of Appeal ruled that the advertisement did, in fact, represent a binding contract. The case set an important precedent in modern contract law. 

    150 votes