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Our History - Our Story

Building a firm foundation, embracing the future. On July 1, 1946 the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) opened its doors and occupied one floor of a small building in Atlanta. Its primary mission was simple yet highly challenging: prevent malaria from spreading across the nation. Armed with a budget of only $10 million and fewer than 400 employees, the agency’s early challenges included obtained enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage war on mosquitoes.

As the organization took root deep in the South, once known as the heart of the malaria zone, CDC Founder Dr. Joseph Mountin continued to advocate for public health issues and to push for CDC to extend its responsibilities to other communicable diseases. He was a visionary public health leader with high hopes for this small and, at that time, relatively insignificant branch of the Public Health Service. In 1947, CDC made a token payment of $10 to Emory University for 15 acres of land on Clifton Road in Atlanta that now serves as CDC headquarters.  The new institution expanded its focus to include all communicable diseases and to provide practical help to state health departments when requested.

Although medical epidemiologists were scarce in those early years, disease surveillance became the cornerstone of CDC’s mission of service to the states and over time changed the practice of public health. While there have been many significant accomplishments since CDC’s humble beginnings, the following highlights some of CDC’s important achievements and the visionary leadership that recognized a future for CDC full of possibilities for improving public health worldwide.

Today, CDC is one of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Serves and is recognized as the nation’s premiere health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agencies.

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Early Years

Descended from the wartime agency Malaria Control in War Areas (MCWA), the CDC initially focused on fighting malaria by killing mosquitoes.

Pursuit of malaria was by far the most absorbing interest of CDC during its early years, with over 50 percent of its personnel engaged in it.

Among its fewer than 400 original employees, the key jobs at CDC were those of entomologists and engineers. In fact, CDC had only seven medical officers on staff in 1946.

DDT, available since 1943, was its primary weapon, and the CDC′s early challenges included obtaining enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage the war on mosquitoes.

In its initial years, over 6.5 million homes were sprayed, and an early organization chart was even drawn—somewhat fancifully—in the shape of a mosquito.

CDC′s first budget was under $10 million.

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Present and Future

Today, CDC is recognized around the world as the nation′s premier health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agency and a global leader in public health.

It remains at the forefront of public health efforts to prevent and control infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, disabilities, and environmental health threats.

CDC is globally recognized for conducting research and investigations and for its action-oriented approach. CDC applies research and findings to improve people′s daily lives and responds to health emergencies—something that distinguishes CDC from its peer agencies.

CDC works with states and other partners to provide a system of health surveillance to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks (including bioterrorism), implement disease prevention strategies, and maintain national health statistics. CDC also guards against international disease transmission, with personnel stationed in more than 25 foreign countries.

CDC is now focusing on becoming a more efficient and impactful agency by focusing on five strategic areas: supporting state and local health departments, improving global health, implementing measures to decrease leading causes of death, strengthening surveillance and epidemiology, and reforming health policies.

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Commemorating CDC′s 60th Anniversary

CDC 60th Anniversary Poster

July 1, 2006 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which was founded as the Communicable Disease Center on July 1, 1946, in Atlanta Georgia.

MMWR Director’s Perspectives

To commemorate this anniversary, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) is presenting a series of Director’s Perspectives, commentaries by past CDC directors and the current director. The directors were invited to give their personal perspectives on the key public health achievements and challenges that occurred during their tenures. This week’s issue contains the first of the Director’s Perspective articles and is written by David J. Sencer. Dr. Sencer served as the director of CDC during 1966-1977. Commentaries by other CDC directors will be published in the months ahead. This week’s MMWR is available in its entirety.