No Cure for Greed

Based on his training and background, Dr. Albert Abrams was a really good turn-of-the-century doctor. As a young man, he studied at the Medical College of the Pacific, then in Germany at the University of Heidelberg in 1882, and was awarded an MD at Cooper College in San Francisco, where he later taught for more than a decade. He published a number of articles, including one on the danger of medical fakers, writing “A physician is only allowed to think he knows it all, but a quack. . . is permitted to know he knows it all.” So when did he decide to become what he warned about?

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Dr. Albert Abrams, before becoming a fraudster

In 1917, Abrams proposed that diseases had vibrations, which he called Electronic Reactions of Abrams, that these diseases can be cured with the same vibrations. The next year he conveniently created the Dynomizer, a machine that can diagnose any disease with a single drop of blood and later with only a patient’s signature, and the Oscillaclast, a machine that produces the necessary vibrations to destroy any disease. Abrams then licensed Oscillaclasts to technicians he trained, making them sign a contract they would never open the machine. He claimed opening it would upset its delicate balance but in truth he didn’t want anyone to see what was inside his machines. By 1921, there were more than 3000 technicians, many charging patients to cure diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and syphilis, and sometimes all three at once. Abrams, meanwhile, was making millions.

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Abrams “curing” diseases in 1923

Gradually, people who weren’t actually cured started filing complaints against Abrams, including a high-profile case where a man who had stomach cancer died. In 1923, a case was brought against Abrams in court. For the court Robert Millikan, who had that year won the Nobel Prize in physics, examined the Oscillaclast machine and wrote “It’s a contraption which might have been thrown together by a ten-year-old boy who knows a little about electricity to mystify an eight-year-old boy who knows nothing about it.”

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Abrams escaped prosecution by contracting pneumonia and, unable to cure his own disease, dying in 1924.

 

 

Posted in American History Kids, disease, medical quackery