Skip to main content

David A. Kessler papers

Call Number: MS 1796

Scope and Contents

The David A. Kessler Papers are almost entirely comprised of materials documenting Kessler's tenure as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (1990-1997). There are no materials documenting his professional or personal life prior to his confirmation as FDA commissioner, and other than speeches, there is no documentation of his term as dean of the Yale University School of Medicine (1997-).

The majority of the Papers were assembled by Kessler as he researched and wrote A Question of Intent (2001, Public Affairs), a recounting of his tenure as FDA commissioner and a study of the attempt by the FDA to secure regulation of nicotine as a drug. In the course of the book preparation, the author created various filing systems for the documentation and there was overlap and duplication between systems. Kessler's filing system has been maintained in the organization of the papers and researchers will often need to search several series to ensure they have located all materials on a given subject. The documentation collected by Kessler from tobacco company websites, legal suits against the tobacco companies, and various governmental hearings about the addictive nature of nicotine were not accessioned. Of the remaining materials, emphasis was placed on capturing documentation and files that were created or generated specifically by Kessler.

Given the wide availability, particularly on the Internet, of once secret tobacco company documents and other materials related to the health consequences of smoking, and their permanent preservation by the Tobacco Control Archives of the University of California at San Francisco (, the most significant research material in the Kessler papers are the transcripts of the many interviews he conducted for his book. The persons interviewed ranged from government officials, leaders of anti-smoking organizations, reporters for major newspapers, and partners in law firms, to employees of tobacco companies. Other issues of concern to Kessler as FDA commissioner included accurate labeling of the contents of food products, breast implants, drug tampering, and adequate funding for the agency. They are primarily documented in the General Files, FDA Files, and Briefing Books series.


  • 1950-2000


Conditions Governing Access

Video tapes in boxes 27-32 and audio tapes in boxes 52-68 and 71-72 may not be played; researchers must have use copies made.

Computer disks in Series VIII are closed until processed.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by David A. Kessler has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of David Kessler, 2005-2006.


Arranged in nine series: I. General Files, 1953-2000; II. Speeches, 1990-2000; III. Chronological Files, 1977-1997; IV. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner's Files, 1952-1997; V. Scrapbooks, 1990-1991; VI. Briefing Books, 1950-1997; VII. Video Tapes, 1990-1997; VIII. Interviews, 1994-2000; IX. Informant Files, 1961-1998.


71.25 Linear Feet (81 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers include speeches, office files, videotapes, and other materials that document Kessler's tenure as commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, particularly his role in the campaign to regulate nicotine as a controlled substance. The collection also contains interviews of tobacco company executives, government officials, researchers, and other individuals that Kessler conducted in the course of writing his book A Question of Intent.

Biographical / Historical

David A. Kessler was born May 31, 1951, in New York City. He graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College in 1973 and received a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1978, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1979, and an advanced certificate in business from New York University's Graduate School of Business Administration in 1986. Kessler served as special assistant to the president of Montefiore Medical Center (1982-1984) and as medical director of The Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine before being appointed as the commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration (1990-1997). From 1997 to 2003, Kessler was dean of the Yale University School of Medicine. In 2003, Kessler became the dean and vice chancellor of medical affairs at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

Other Finding Aids

For an index of author interviews, please consult theAuthor Interviews Index.

Guide to the David A. Kessler Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Tom Hyry, Christine Weideman, Helen Kriwokulski, and staff of Manuscripts and Archives
October 2001
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)


Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours