October 1948

Baldwin, who has remained an advisor to the U.S. military even after returning to University of Wisconsin, gives a report on American vulnerability to biological attack from enemy agents. He suggests the only way to properly assess the risk is to simulate such attacks through widespread tests across the U.S.

December 1948

At Fildes' suggestion, the British begin three months of biological testing near the tropical island of Antigua.

May 1949: Human Testing in the U.S.

The U.S. Army Chemical Corps sets up a Special Operations Division at Camp Detrick to carry out the tests Baldwin has proposed.

August 1949

The Special Operations Division sets up its first test at the Pentagon. Operatives spray harmless bacteria into the building's air conditioning system and observe as billions of these microbes spread throughout the Pentagon.

April 1950

Secret testing continues as Navy warships spray the cities of Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News with an allegedly harmless anthrax simulant.

The "Eight Ball" under construction
Courtesy of Chuck Dasey

The "Eight Ball" under construction
September 1950

Ships release three-mile long clouds of Serratia marcescens bacteria while sailing off San Francisco. Bacteria are detected as far as 23 miles inland, and Camp Detrick scientists estimate that nearly all of San Francisco’s 800,000 residents have inhaled them.

Work is completed on a massive sphere for testing biological agents at Camp Detrick; it is named the “Eight Ball.” The one-million liter sphere is the largest aerobiology chamber ever constructed.

May 8, 1951

North Korea accuses the U.S. of dropping smallpox bombs over Pyongyang; American General Matthew Ridgway calls these accusations “deliberate lies.” Despite the U.S. denial and the independent debunking of several of North Korea’s biological weapons claims, they will be repeated over the course of the Korean War.

Chou En-Lai
Library of Congress

Chou En-Lai
March 1952

Chinese foreign minister Chou En-Lai claims that the U.S. is using bacteriological bombs over China. The Chinese form the International Scientific Commission to investigate. Their report concludes that “The peoples of Korea and China have indeed been the objective of bacteriological weapons. These have been employed by units of the U.S.A. armed forces.”

August 9, 1952

The U.S. begins large-scale field testing of bombs filled with Brucella bacteria, dropping them over a mock enemy city populated by 3,000 guinea pigs at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Similar tests will be repeated over the next two months.


In the St Jo Program, operatives stage mock anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg, releasing simulant bacteria from aerosol generators placed on top of cars. The Air Force officially adopts a plan for use of Brucella bombs in warfare, and a plant for producing the bacteria is completed in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Whitecoat test subjects
Courtesy of Chuck Dasey

Whitecoat test subjects
January 25, 1955: The Army Sickens Informed Volunteers

Camp Detrick scientists begin studying the effects of biological agents on human volunteers. The recruits for “Operation Whitecoat,” which will continue for the next 18 years and involve some 2,200 people, are Seventh-Day Adventists whose beliefs forbid the bearing of arms but who are willing to serve the military in non-combatant, often medical roles.

July 12, 1955

Outdoor experiments subject 30 Whitecoat recruits to Q fever bacteria aerosol at Dugway Proving Grounds; those who get sick are given antibiotics, and all subsequently recover.

View of the main entrance to Fort Detrick, 1956
Fort Detrick Public Affairs Office and the Detrick Center for Training and Education Excellence

View of the main entrance to Fort Detrick, 1956
February 3, 1956

Now a permanent institution, “Camp Detrick” is renamed “Fort Detrick.”

March 15, 1956

The National Security Council abandons American policy forbidding a bioweapons first-strike; henceforth their use is at the President's discretion.

December 2, 1957

As part of "Operation Large Area Concept," the Chemical Corps begins releasing aerosolized particles from airplanes to see just how wide an area they can impact. The first experiment involves a swath from South Dakota to Minnesota, and some of the particles eventually travel 1200 miles. Further tests cover areas from Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas.


Shiro Ishii dies, never having to answer for his war crimes. Other leading Japanese biological warfare scientists with responsibility for heinous crimes lead successful professional lives as industry leaders and academics.

1961: U.S. Field Tests Expanded Further

New Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara orders a review of the U.S. chemical and bioweapons program, leading to an expansion in field testing and more research on the feasibility of distributing biological agents through spraying from airplanes rather than dropping bombs.

May 1965

Members of Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division simulate bioweapons attacks on Washington, D.C.'s bus terminal and National Airport.

The Lexington Ave subway line in New York City
National Archives and Records Administration

The Lexington Ave subway line in New York City
June 7, 1966

Fort Detrick Special Operations tests are conducted in the New York subway; bacteria-filled light bulbs are dropped onto the tracks from moving trains.

March 13, 1968

The Air Force mistakenly releases a chemical weapon, VX nerve agent, outside the Dugway Proving Ground, apparently resulting in the death of 3,000 sheep in nearby Skull Valley.

Spring 1969

Newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon asks National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to lead a review of the U.S. biological and chemical warfare programs. A number of papers submitted for the review process, such as that written by Kissinger's Harvard colleague Matthew Meselson, argue against keeping an offensive biological weapons program.

Summer 1969

The culmination of four years of biological tests both at sea and on islands in the Pacific occurs at Eniwetok Atoll, a former nuclear bomb test site. Tests on pathogen distribution reveal that the bacteria sprayed from one airplane can eventually cover more than 900 square miles.

November 10, 1969

The Interdepartmental Political-Military Group, which on Kissinger's orders had undertaken an assessment of the U.S. biological and chemical warfare programs, issues its Top Secret report. In effect, it does not provide any answers, but does clarify various options and their consequences for the president.

November 25, 1969: Nixon Renounces Biological Weapons

Nixon announces that “the United States will renounce the use of any form of deadly biological weapons that either kill or incapacitate,” adding, “Mankind already carries in its own hands too many of the seeds of its own destruction.” Although Nixon’s initial statement does not mention toxins such as botulinum toxin, on February 14, 1970, he will makes clear that those weapons will also be abandoned. As a result of Nixon’s Executive Order, the U.S. offensive bioweapons program is terminated; further biological research by the military is limited to defending and immunizing against such weapons.

February 5, 1971

Paul Fildes dies.

April 10, 1972

The Biological Weapons Convention, which bans all bioweapons, is completed and opened for signature. Seventy-nine nations immediately sign the treaty.

December 1974

The U.S. Senate ratifies the Biological Weapons Convention.

March 26, 1975

The Biological Weapons Convention officially goes into force. That same year the U.S. Senate also finally ratifies the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

Senate hearings reveal that the CIA has kept two cans of shellfish toxin; they are handed over to a former Fort Detrick microbiologist who in turn distributes them to a number of private scientists for research purposes.

Sverdlovsk Oblast on the map of Russia
Fort Detrick Public Affairs Office and the Detrick Center for Training and Education Excellence

Sverdlovsk Oblast on the map of Russia
April 2, 1979: International Bioweapons Use

Nearly 70 people die of anthrax in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk. The government of the U.S.S.R. claims the deaths resulted from people consuming infected meat. The U.S. suspects that anthrax bacterial spores were accidentally released from a Soviet military biological facility (Compound 19), and that the victims contracted inhalation anthrax. If the U.S. view was correct, the Soviet Union was violating the Biological Weapons Convention, which it had ratified in 1975.


The Iran-Iraq War features the widespread use of chemical weapons; first by Iraq, then by both sides.

Gas bombing of the town of Halabjah in 1988
U.S. Department of State

Gas bombing of the town of Halabjah in 1988
March 16, 1988

As part of a wide-ranging military campaign against the Kurds, the Iraqi government uses chemical weapons against Kurdish cities, such as Birjinni and Halabja. It has been estimated that more than 5,000 Kurds are killed by nerve and mustard agents dropped on them by Iraqi aircraft between March and August of that year.


A Soviet defector from Biopreparat, Vladimir Pasechnik, reveals the existence of a continuing offensive biological weapons program in the U.S.S.R.

April 1991

The U.N. Security Council orders Iraq to stop all biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs, and inspectors are authorized to ensure compliance.

April 1992

Russian President Boris Yeltsin admits the 1979 outbreak was caused by the Soviet military, although he gives few details. He also admits that the Soviet Union had operated an offensive biological warfare program in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention. That same year Meselson leads a team of U.S. scientists on a fact-finding mission to the site of the 1979 Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak.

August 9, 1999

Ira Baldwin dies just a few weeks shy of his 104th birthday.

Envelope containing anthrax
U.S. Department of State

Envelope containing anthrax
October 15, 2001: Modern Biological Attacks

Envelopes filled with anthrax bacteria spores are sent to various media and political figures in the U.S., including then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. Twenty-two people from Florida to Connecticut, are infected including several postal workers; five of them die. As of 2006, the origin of the envelopes is yet to be identified.


US Marine Corps fire an M 198 155mm howitzer at Umm Qasr, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

March 2003

The United States leads an invasion of Iraq. President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney insist that Saddam Hussein's government possesses weapons of mass destruction, but no such weapons have been found.

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