Chemistry and Forensic Science Timeline
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In the early 1900s, the average American's medicine cabinet was a would-be poisoner's treasure chest. Deadly chemicals such as radioactive radium, thallium, potassium cyanide, and morphine lurked in health tonics, depilatory creams, teething medicine, and cleaning supplies. As industrial innovation increased, the tools of the murderer's trade multiplied. However, the scientific knowledge to detect crime and the political will to prevent it lagged behind.

The use of poison as a murder weapon goes back thousands of years, and there was a time in America's recent past when many poisons were completely unregulated. Innovations in forensic toxicology has allowed investigators to determine causes of death that are often misdiagnosed and has become an essential tool in criminal investigations and court trials in the United States.

Teach your class about the historical events that aided our collective understanding of poison – and chemistry – as they browse milestones of forensic science in this timeline from PBS’s American Experience. The lesson plan includes teaching tips, a background essay and discussion questions. EXPLORE: