- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Albert Abrams

Born  1863-12-08
Died  1924-01-13

Related eponyms

American internist, born December 8, 1863, San Francisco; Died January 13, 1924.

Biography of Albert Abrams

Albert Abrams - greatest quack of the twnetieth century?

Albert Abrams first obtained an American medical diploma, and, having learned Germen, he obtained a medical doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in 1882, before undertaking further studies in London, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris. He was elected vice-president of the California State Medical Society in 1889 and made president of the San Francisco Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1893. From 1893 to 1898 he was professor of pathology at the Cooper Medical College, San Francisco. He resigned his professorship in 1898.

In the beginning of the 1900s he had become a respected expert in neurology, and from 1904 he was president of the Emanuel Polyclinic in San Francisco. A man of respectable background, Abrams seemed to have the promise of a distinguished career. Abrams was just abut to do something about it. In 1910 he departed from medical orthodoxy with a book on a medical technique he called spondylotherapy. This was his version of chiropractic and osteopathy which were viewed as "cults" by the medical profession at the time.

ERA – the electronic reactions of Abrams
His peers now became concerned that Abrams was promoting questionable medical practices. He was, but this was only the beginning. In 1916 he the results of what he termed "the electronic reactions of Abrams" or the E.R.A. The book, New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment, was a complete departure from conventional medicine and earned him a reputation as a quack. Worse was to come. At about 1920 Abrams began claiming that all substances radiated electronic vibrations that could be detected and measured. All human organs, diseased and healthy, transmitted radiation or "vibrations" unique to that organ or disease.

Abrams claimed that All parts of the body emit electrical impulses with different frequencies that vary with health and disease; illnesses -- as well as age, sex, religion, and location -- could be diagnosed by "tuning in" on patient's blood or handwriting samples with one of his devices; and that diseases could be treated by feeding proper vibrations into the body with another of his devices. Abrams developed thirteen devices claimed to detect such frequencies and/or cure people by matching their frequencies.

All that was needed from a patient for diagnosis was a drop of blood, a single hair, or even a handwriting sample as these would give off the unique "vibrations" of that individual. Not only were diseases ascertained by a drop of blood or handwriting, but one could determine a person's religion, golf handicap, sex, age, present location, when that person would die, and innumerable other titbits of information.

Abrams would take a hair, handwriting or blood sample (sometimes a photograph) of a patient to be diagnosed. This would be placed into a device he called a Dynamiser. This was hooked up by wires to a headpiece to be worn on a healthy individual (called a reagent) who, while facing west, would "react" biologically through the central nervous system to the diseased "vibrations". These "reactions" could be detected by percussing (thumping) the abdomen of the reagent which would reveal areas of "dullness." The location of the dullness (a dull note sounded when thumped) and its size would indicate the precise disease and its location in the patient.

Fiction stuff
Abrams’ theories caused a huge controversy in the early 1920s when the famous author, Upton Sinclair, wrote the article "The House of Wonders" for Pearson's Magazine in June of 1923 which promoted Dr. Abrams' theory and methods. This led to numerous articles on the E.R.A. in popular magazines both pro and con. The scientific and medical communities in the United States and Britain were forced to respond to this situation. Two scientific investigations were conducted to get to the bottom of the matter.

During the 1950s, an FDA investigation showed that some of Abrams's devices produced magnetism from circuits like that of an electric doorbell, whereas others had short-wave circuits resembling those of a taxicab transmitter [3]. Similar devices have been produced by many others and are still marketed today.
One of Abrams's many imitators was Royal Raymond Rife (1888-1971), an American who claimed that cancer was caused by bacteria. During the 1920s, he claimed to have developed a powerful microscope that could detect living microbes by the color of auras emitted by their vibratory rates. His Rife Frequency Generator allegedly generates radio waves with precisely the same frequency, causing the offending bacteria to shatter in the same manner as a crystal glass breaks in response to the voice of an opera singer.

Greatest quack of the twentieth century?
The sustained debate on Abrams theories is the stuff for another article. One magazine referring to Abrams’ theories was Hygeia (later Today’s health).


  • Diseases of the heart; their diagnosis and treatment.
    Chicago 1900.
  • Transactions of the Antiseptic Club.
    Treatise, New York, 1901. 206 pages.
  • The clinical value of the heart reflex.
    Medical Record, New York, 1901, 59: 10-12.
  • Some cardiorespiratory phenomena revealed by the röntgen rays. Am Med, 1903: 11-15.
  • The blues (splanchnic neurasthenia); causes and cure.
    240 pages. New York 1904; 2nd edition, 1905. 3rd edition, revised and enlarged, New York, E.B. Treat, 1908. 287 pages.
  • Man and his poisons; a practical exposition of the causes, symptoms and treatment of self-poisoning.
    New York, E. B. Treat, 1906. 268 pages.
  • Autointoxication and indicanuria.
    New York, W. Wood, 1908. 6 pages.
    Reprinted from The Medical Record, New York, April 25, 1908.
  • Diagnostic therapeutics. A guide for practitioners in diagnosis by aid of drugs and methods other than drug-giving.
    New York, Rebman, 1910. 1039 pages. 28 plates.
  • Spondylotherapy; spinal concussion and the application of other methods to the spine in the treatment of disease.
    San Francisco, Philopolis Press, 1910. 400 pages.
  • Spondylotherapy; physio-therapy of the spine based on a study of clinical physiology.
    3rd enlarges edition, San Francisco, Philopolis Press, 1912. 673 pages.
  • Progressive spondylotherapy, 1913; a summary of new clinico-physiologic and reflexologic data; with an appendix on the physiological physics of the various forms of force.
    San Francisco, Philopolis Press, 1913.
  • Progressive spondylotherapy, 1914.
    San Francisco [Philopolis Press?] 1914. 151 pages.
  • Human energy. San Francisco, n.p., 1914. 53 pages.
  • New concepts in diagnosis and treatment, physico-clinical medicine, the practical application of the electronic theory in the interpretation and treatment of disease, with an appendix on new scientific facts.
    San Francisco, Philopolis Press, 1916. 35 pages.
    Chief exposition of "Electronic Reactions of Abrams" (ERA)
    5th edition in 430 pages, San Francisco, Physico-Clinical Co., 1924.
  • Spondylotherapy; physio and pharmaco-therapy and diagnostic methods based on a study of clinical physiology by Albert Abrams.
    6th edition. San Francisco, Physico-Clinical Co., 1922. 673 pages.
  • Catechism of the electronic methods of Dr. Albert Adams.
    In his New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment.
    San Francisco, 1922. Pp [375-384]
  • The electronic reactions of Abrams.
    In his New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment, pp. [337]-373. San Francisco, 1922.
  • Diary of a physician.
    Illustrated by William Gropper.
    New York, Modern Press, 1923. 96 pages.

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