History of the US Offensive Biological Warfare Program (1941-1973)
17 June 1925: The United States signs the Geneva Protocol, formally titled the Protocol for the Prohibition of
the use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. The
Senate, however, does not vote on the agreement until 1974.
Fall 1941: The US Army quietly begins to explore the feasibility of biological warfare through the Chemical
Warfare Service (CWS), later the Army Chemical Corps. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson requests a
report from the National Academy of Sciences evaluating and suggesting future steps for the US biological
weapons program. In response, the National Academy of Sciences establishes the War Bureau of
December 1941: Canadian scientists meet with the War Bureau of Consultants Committee, pledging future
cooperation and information sharing.
February 1942: The requested National Academy of Sciences report concludes that human, animal and plant
populations in the United States are susceptible to biological weapons attack. Consequently, the report
recommends the development of defensive capabilities in the form of vaccines and protection of water
supplies. The report also advocates accelerating an offensive biological weapons program.
February/March 1942: Informal liaisons are established between the CWS and Porton Down, the United
Kingdom's chemical and biological warfare research organization.
April 1942: Stimson argues in a memo to President Roosevelt for a small, secret biological weapons
program. Stimson also suggests that a civilian agency, albeit with strong ties to the military, maintain
overall control of the program.
Summer 1942: The United Kingdom conducts tests using anthrax at Gruinard Island off the coast of
Scotland. The experiments prove that airborne anthrax is highly infectious, making it all the more appealing
as a weapon.
July 1942: The Joint US-Canadian Commission is established to collaborate on biological warfare issues.
With an early focus on the potential effects of rinderpest infestation on North American livestock, the
commission coordinated joint experiments and eventually contributed to the development of a rinderpest
August 1942: George Merck, president of the Merck & Co. pharmaceutical company, accepts the position as
head of the newly-created War Research Service (WRS), the coordinating agency that joins government and
private institution resources to carry out the US biological warfare program. Headed by a small cadre of
well-connected individuals, the WRS begins to conduct research at dozens of American universities.
Simultaneously, the WRS encourages the Chemical Warfare Service to expand its examination of biological
weapons potential and construct research facilities. The initial allocation in 1942 for the WRS totals
$200,000. Meanwhile, the Chemical Warfare Service receives millions of dollars to construct research
1943: Construction begins on a biological weapons research and development facility at Camp Detrick in
Frederick, Maryland. Camp Detrick, which becomes operational that year with about 4,000 personnel, is
renamed Fort Detrick in 1956.
January 1943: WRS is running programs to explore the offensive potential of botulinum toxin and anthrax.
These two particular agents remain the focus of the offensive program during the remaining World War II
April 1943: WRS requests an additional $25,000 for 1943, on top of its original $200,000 allocation. The
1944 budget request later increases to $350,000. Eventually, President Roosevelt hikes the 1944 WRS
funding level to $460,000.
October 1943: A cloud chamber project is initiated at Fort Detrick. Operational in January 1945, the project
is designed to investigate infection via inhalation in small laboratory animals. These efforts contribute to the
mass of data accumulated by research in Canada and the United Kingdom.
December 1943: Intelligence reports suggest that Germany and Japan might be planning a biological attack
against the United States and urge an intensification of the US germ warfare program.
Late 1943: Work begins on development of 500-pound anthrax bombs, each containing over 100 smaller
bomblets. The United Kingdom contributes technical assistance to the effort. CWS also produces botulinum
1944: CWS requests and receives $2.5 million to fund anthrax and botulinum toxin bombs. That allocation
would be sufficient to produce 275,000 botulinum toxin or one million anthrax bombs every month. Work
also begins on a 2,000-acre facility on Horn Island in Pascagoula, Mississippi for field trials; a 250-square
mile location near Dugway Proving Ground in Utah for bombing tests; and a 6,100-acre manufacturing plant
in Vigo, near Terre Haute, Indiana.
Early 1944: Concerns grow over possible arming of Germany's V-1 bombs with biological weapons agents.
May 1944: The Vigo Ordnance Plant is built near Terre Haute with the intention of using it as a biological
weapons agent production and munition filling facility. However, the facility runs only in a test phase. The
Army deactivates it in 1946 following the conclusion of the war and sells it to an American pharmaceutical
May 1944: At the suggestion of Stimson and Paul McNutt, head of the Federal Security Agency, President
Roosevelt agrees to transfer the biological warfare program to the War Department and dissolves the WRS.
Within the War Department, the Chemical Warfare Service handles the study of biological warfare agents,
biological warfare intelligence, and biological warfare defense. Fort Detrick runs the research and
Summer 1944: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill approves an order of 500,000 4-pound anthrax
bombs, to be built in the United States. The war ends before the order is completed.
October 1944: Stimson creates the US Biological War Committee as a replacement for the WRS. Merck is
appointed chairman. Within the Chemical Warfare Service, the biological weapons program is funneled into
the Special Projects Division, employing some 3,900 people at its peak.
October 1944: Vannevar Bush and James Conant, Directors of the Office of Scientific Research and
Development, urge Stimson to press the president to consider creating international arrangements to
address the new issues generated by germ warfare programs. They envision more open international
discussions of biological weapons programs and information sharing in an effort to prevent a biological arms
race. Their ideas resurface in February 1945, but fall on deaf ears.
November 1944: Merck notifies Stimson of CWS research into four additional biological weapons agents,
believed by experts to be brucellosis, psittacosis, tularemia, and glanders.
1945: At the end of World War II, major construction activities and testing programs end. Remaining
programs, centered at Fort Detrick, are phased down to research status and focus primarily on evaluation of
agents and medical defenses.
1946: The Chief Chemical Officer discusses accomplishments of the World War II biological weapons
program during hearings on the 1947 military appropriations bill.
January 1946: The War Department publicly releases a notice that the United States had developed a
biological weapons program, secret information until that point. The press release attempts to assuage
concerns about the program's overall safety record, offering statistics on accidental infection of personnel
involved with the effort.
August 1946: The Chemical Warfare Service is renamed the Chemical Corps and retains jurisdiction over the
biological weapons research and development program.
July 1948: The Joint Chiefs of Staff request a comparative study of biological, chemical, and radiological
warfare. For the next few years, the US biological warfare program receives constant review and scrutiny.
October 1948: The Committee on Biological Warfare, convened by the Research and Development Board of
the newly formed Office of the Secretary of Defense, concludes its "Report on Special Biological Warfare
Operations." The so-called Baldwin Report notes that the United States is vulnerable to biological warfare
attacks, particularly subversive ones. The committee recommends developing agent identification,
decontamination, and protection capacities. The committee also endorses vulnerability tests on the water
supply and subway systems, resulting in the creation of the Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick.
1949: Construction of a one million liter test sphere is completed at Fort Detrick to test pathogen filled
July 1949: Another committee--established by the Secretary of Defense earlier in 1949 to study the
biological weapons program--reaffirms prior recommendations that US defenses against biological warfare
1950: The first open-air sea tests using simulant agents (e.g., Bacillus globigii) occur on naval vessels off
the coast of Norfolk, Virginia.
February 1950: Following a thorough review, President Harry Truman approves a continuation of the
existing retaliation-only policy for chemical, biological, and radiological weapons.
June 1950: The Ad Hoc Committee on Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Warfare, created by Defense
Secretary Louis Johnson in October 1949 to study technical and strategic issues, recommends the
construction of a biological warfare production facility, field tests of biological warfare agents and munitions,
and expansion of biological warfare research programs.
September 1950: The Army conducts a large area sea test using two simulants in the San Francisco Bay
area. Citizens later express concern that one of the agents used--Serratia marcescens--was not as
innocuous as the Army had originally maintained. Field testing also resumes at Dugway Proving Ground and
expands the following year.
October 1950: Defense Secretary George Marshall approves all of the Ad Hoc Committee's
recommendations, except those relating to the US retaliatory policy. Secretary Marshall authorizes, among
other things, the building of a production facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal.
1951: A retaliatory capability comes into being with the development, testing, and production of an anti-
crop bomb for the Air Force.
February 1951: Construction begins on a biological weapons production facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal.
Ultimately, the plant costs $90 million.
July 1951: The first test of an anti-animal biological agent takes place at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. In
1954, the anti-animal program is discontinued amid assertions that it was of limited military value.
December 1951: Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett issues a directive for the Defense Department to
improve the state of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons readiness.
1953: Fort Detrick receives a major laboratory and facility upgrade to support the expanded biological
weapons research and development efforts.
October 1953: Chemical Corps activities related to biological weapons are consolidated under a newly
appointed Assistant Chief Chemical Officer for Biological Warfare. This position, however, is abolished the
following year. Subsequent efforts to reorganize the management of the biological weapons program are not
executed until 1962.
December 1953: Production of biological warfare agents commences at Pine Bluff Arsenal. Between 1954
and 1967, at least seven different biological agents were produced: Brucella suis, Pasteurella tularensis,
Coxiella burnetti, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Bacillus anthracis, botulinum toxin, and Staphylococcus
August 1954 to July 1958: Laboratory construction at Fort Detrick totals $15.6 million.
1955: The Army's Operation CD-22 (also referred to as Operation Whitecoat) seeks to determine the extent
to which humans are susceptible to infection from aerosol dispersal of a biological weapons agent. The test
does not use simulants, but rather the actual pathogen that causes Q fever, Coxiella burnetti. Initial
experiments involve guinea pigs and monkeys, although humans are later incorporated.
1955: Large-scale production of Pasteurella tularensis, which causes tularemia, begins at Pine Bluff Arsenal.
January 1955: Fort Detrick's vaccine research program expands with contract work at Ohio State University.
1956: The United States revises its "retaliation only" policy for biological and chemical warfare. In response
to a Soviet assertion that biological and chemical weapons would be used in future wars, the United States
decides to prepare for use of both chemical and biological weapons. Ultimately, the decision of whether to
use biological or chemical weapons would be left to the president.
1956: As part of the effort to expand the biological weapons program's defensive component, the US Army
Medical Unit begins operations under the control of the Army Surgeon General. The unit then takes over the
management Project Whitecoat.
April to November 1956: Interested in determining whether insects can serve as disseminators of biological
weapons agents such as yellow fever, the Chemical Corps releases uninfected mosquitos around Savannah,
Georgia and then canvasses residents to determine the number of people bitten. Similar tests were later
conducted in Florida.
December 1957: Operation LAC (Large Area Coverage) commences, at the time the largest test ever
undertaken by the Army Chemical Corps. Zinc cadmium sulfide particles are disseminated from an airplane,
their distance and direction monitored closely, to examine the feasibility of large-scale contamination with
airborne biological agents. The initial test run followed a path from South Dakota to Minnesota. Particles
were detected locally along the route of the aircraft, as well as in Canada and as far away as New York.
February 1958: A second trial under Operation LAC takes place at Dugway Proving Ground. A 200-mile long
line of zinc cadmium sulfide particles stretches to a front of 600 miles due to atmospheric patterns present
during the test.
May 1958: The Joint Chiefs of Staff concludes that budget constraints are limiting the pace of progress in US
offensive biological and chemical warfare programs.
December 1958: The Defense Science Board sponsors a biological and chemical warfare symposium at the
Rand Corporation to examine the military and political impact of biological warfare. The final report
recommends the increase of overall chemical and biological weapons research, the development of use
doctrines for both categories of weapons, and an attempt to garner greater public support for both
Mid-1959: Defense Secretary Neil McElroy begins a five-year expansion of the US chemical and biological
warfare programs. By the end of the year, the Chemical Corps reaches its highest levels since World War II.
June 1960: Established the previous year by Defense Secretary McElroy, the Biological and Chemical
Defense Planning Board issues a report recommending greater emphasis on biological warfare retaliatory
and defensive programs. The board includes scientists, engineers, and research and development experts
from industry, academia, and government.
Summer 1960: The biological weapons program shifts to emphasize incapacitation of enemy personnel in an
attempt to limit casualties in a limited war.
May 1961: The Secretary of Defense calls on the Joint Chiefs of Staff to evaluate thoroughly the US
biological warfare program, considering possible strategic applications for the program and identifying costs
for development of a chemical-biological deterrent capability. The price estimate worked out by the Joint
Chiefs totals $4 billion.
September 1961: A Defense Department working group crafts a comprehensive plan to step up the US
biological warfare program based on the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendations. The project yields significant
funding increases for the Chemical Corps. Called Project 112, the plan notes in particular a need for
increased field testing.
1962: The Army reorganizes the Chemical Corps and places the biological weapons program under a newly
formed Munitions Command within the Army Materiel Command. Fort Detrick remains the hub of the
biological weapons program, maintaining operational control of production activities at Pine Bluff arsenal.
Testing and evaluation of biological agents is assigned to a separate command.
May 1962: The Army creates Deseret Test Center at Fort Douglas near Salt Lake City, Utah, with an initial
staffing level of 227 military and civilian personnel. An outgrowth of Project 112, Deseret's primary tasks
involve planning, conducting, and evaluating tests of both chemical and biological weapons.
April 1963: A new policy statement requires that the president sign off on weapons tests that might have
long-term environmental effects.
October 1963: Studies are launched by the State and Defense Departments to consider the coordination of
US policy on chemical and biological weapons.
1964: Weaponization of incapacitating biological agents, including enterotoxins, appears attainable. These
agents are particularly attractive to military planners because much smaller quantities are required in
comparison to chemical agents.
1964-1966: A virus and rickettsiae production plant is built at Pine Bluff Arsenal.
1965: The Army conducts open air tests using the simulant Bacillus globigii at Washington DC's National
Airport and Greyhound bus terminal.
1966: Growing United Nations (UN) activity to draw up a biological arms control agreement and expanding
US involvement in Vietnam push the biological weapons program further down the funding priority list.
Appropriations in 1966 total $38 million. By 1969, that figure decreases to $31 million.
June 1966: The Army conducts tests in Manhattan subway lines to analyze the vulnerability of large
metropolitan areas to biological weapons attacks. The experiments demonstrate to the biological weapons
research community that large numbers of civilians could be exposed to potentially lethal doses of agents
through similar dissemination tactics.
December 1966: The UN General Assembly passes a resolution urging all states to observe the 1925 Geneva
Protocol and recommending that the United States establish a no-first-use policy for its biological weapons.
The United States takes no action.
1967: A group of scientists calls on President Lyndon Johnson to review US chemical and biological weapons
programs and policy. That same year, construction begins on new modern laboratory facilities at Fort
January 1967: Allegations surface of chemical weapons use in the Yemen Civil War, prompting states to
question seriously the role and effectiveness of the Geneva Protocol.
Summer 1968: The United States conducts open air biological tests over the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 miles
southwest of Hawaii. Jets disseminating a small, steady amount of biological agent in powdered form fly
over barges carrying cages with monkeys inside. Half of the animals die from exposure to lethal biological
December 1968: At the recommendation of the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament, later the
Conference of Disarmament, the UN Secretary General appoints a group of experts to examine the risks
posed to mankind by the use of biological and chemical weapons. The expert group meets in February, April,
and June of 1969.
Spring 1969: Congress holds hearings on the hazards associated with storing, transporting, disposing, and
conducting open-air tests with dangerous chemicals. These hearings draw greater attention to the overall
chemical and biological weapons issue within the United States and contribute to growing opposition to the
programs both inside and outside government.
May 1969: President Richard Nixon calls for the National Security Council to review chemical and biological
July 1969: The United Kingdom tables a draft convention banning biological weapons development,
production, and stockpiling. The proposal is revolutionary in that it de-links chemical and biological weapons.
Until that point, policy makers had considered chemical and biological weapons together, as they were in the
Geneva Protocol. The Soviet Union initially rejects any separation of the two types of weapons, although that
stance later shifts. At the same time, the UN Secretary General accepts the expert group's report and calls
for a halt to the development, production, and stockpiling of all chemical and biological weapons.
July 1969: The Senate Armed Services Committee votes to zero funding for offensive chemical and biological
programs. Later amendments to the spending bill prohibit open-air tests involving lethal chemical and
biological agents and require the Secretary of Defense to inform Congress every six months on exactly how
chemical and biological weapons funds are spent.
August 1969: The Army stops the production of toxins and biological agents and filling of dissemination
devices. In anticipation of President Nixon's renunciation of the biological weapons program, the Army also
draws up initial specifications to destroy the US stockpile of biological weapons. From that point on, the
Army's biological weapons technical program is restricted to demilitarization and defensive activities.
November 1969: The World Health Organization submits a report to the UN outlining the health risks posed
by biological and chemical warfare. Both the World Health Organization report and the report of the UN
expert group emphasize the risks associated with the use of biological warfare in a large scale military
effort, particularly military commanders' inability to control these weapons.
25 November 1969: During a visit to Fort Detrick, President Nixon renounces the development, production,
stockpiling, and use of biological warfare agents. He also reaffirms the US no-first-use policy for chemical
weapons and agrees to submit the Geneva Protocol to the Senate for consideration. Toxins are added to the
biological weapons ban on 14 February 1970. The Department of Defense is required to dispose of existing
biological weapons and scale down the program to include research only for defensive measures. In the
wake of the announcement, the US Army Medical Unit changes its name to the US Army Medical Research
Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). The focus of USAMRIID shifts to the development of vaccines,
protective measures, and detection systems.
Spring 1971: The Soviet Union reverses its position against an agreement addressing biological weapons
only. This shift clears the way for rapid progress toward an international convention banning biological
May 1971 to May 1972: The Army destroys all antipersonnel biological warfare stocks and munitions at Pine
April 1971 to February 1973: The Army destroys all anti-crop agent stocks at Fort Detrick, Rocky Mountain
Arsenal in Colorado, and Beale Air Force Base in California. At that time, two agents are part of the
stockpile: TX, the agent that causes wheat stem rust, and LX, the agent that causes rice blast.
September 1971: Negotiators finish drafting the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC).
April 1972: The Army's Office of the Surgeon General takes control of Fort Detrick, replacing the Army
April 1972: The United States signs the BWC.
December 1974: The US Senate gives its advice and consent to ratify both the Geneva Protocol and the
Biological Weapons Convention. President Gerald Ford ratifies the agreements in January 1995.
26 March 1975: The United States deposits its instrument of ratification of the BWC.
10 April 1975: The United States deposits its instrument of ratification of the Geneva Protocol.
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