Our History - Our Story

Early researchers in the first CDC laboratory, 1945

Laboratory at 291 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia, 1945. Aimee Wilcox & Laboratory Director, Dr. Seward Miller.

On July 1, 1942 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 obtaining 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. There have been many significant accomplishments since CDC’s humble beginnings. The following highlights some of CDC’s important achievements for improving public health worldwide.

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

CDC TIMELINES

A look at CDC's significant contributions to public health, from 1946 to now.

CDC COLLECTION

A collection of historic materials reflect the art, history, and science of CDC.

HIDDEN HISTORY

The story behind CDC museum's collection of historic objects.

Page last reviewed: January 19, 2018