Sue Young Histories

Albert Abrams 1863 – 1924

October 19, 2008

Albert Abrams AM, MD Heid., FRMS 1863 – 1924 was Professor of Pathology, and Director of the Medical Clinic at Cooper College in San Francisco, Vice President of the California State Medical Society, President of the San Francisco Medico Churgical Society.

Albert Abrams was the inventor of the Radionics machine and an advocate of homeopathy. Albert Abrams became a storm centre for the rage of allopathic physicians, not only for his ERA machine, but also for his use of homeopathic remedies, and they have spent years tearing his name into little pieces. However, Albert Abrams was defended by James Barr, Upton Sinclair and Arthur Conan Doyle and many others.

Albert Abrams’ ideas gave birth to an astonishing variety of research, and he remains a hero to all free thinkers for his bravery in the face of such vitriol, and for his championing of homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropracty, radionics and subtle energies.

Albert Abrams originally set out to disprove homeopathy, but like many true scientists, he ended up converted:

From In the early 1920’s a physician at Stanford University, Albert Abrams, noted a unique quality to the sound he got when the abdomen of a patient was percussed.

After much experimentation he found that a healthy person would percuss with the same “dullness” when a sample of diseased tissue was held against them. Abrams concluded that there was some kind of “radiation” from the tissue to which the healthy body reacted.

He believed that if the phenomenon were electronic in nature (as he thought it was) it should be possible to measure the frequency of the disease by placing a potentiometer between the pathological sample and the percussed patient and observing at which frequency the note of percussion changed.

Abrams also experimented with determining the vibratory rate of drugs. When he attempted to show his students the worthlessness of potentized remedies, he found, to his surprise, that the 3X potency showed greater strength than a tincture, and the higher the potency (he tried a 6X and a 30) the stronger the reaction.

As it was reported in the January 1923 Jottings:

“Dr. Abrams published the results of his experiments and acknowledged his belief in the homeopathic law of cure, then and not until then the wrath of the dominant school enveloped him. He has been denounced as a charlatan and fakir.”

Albert Abrams originally offended orthodox physicians by his endorsement of osteopathy and chiropracty, which they opposed with every means at their disposal:

In 1910 Abrams published a book on a medical technique he called _Spondylotherapy_

Albert Abrams ERA technology took off like a rocket, threatening the vested interests of the orthodoxy:

From 3500 practitioners were using Abrams machines at the height of his popularity, in 1923. The oscilloclast were leased for $200 down and $5 per month ($250 down if for DC current). The oscilloclast was sealed and the lessee had to sign a contract not to open it.

Abrams organized the American Electronic Research Association and sought out osteopaths to become his trained practitioners. However, soon other companies were manufacturing a variety of ERA magic boxes and selling to chiropractors and probably to anyone who could see a future in being an ERA practitioner…

In 1923, a US patent was granted to Sam Hoffman, of San Francisco, for a pendulum circuit breaker for Abrams’ oscilloclast. This improvement did away with a large motor seen in the early models (as illustrated in The Lancet, Jan 26, 1924), and probably lowered the cost of production, now that several thousand units were required by Abrams’ cultists.

Actually, the patients would more appropriately be called cultists, since the term implies true believers. The licensed practitioners were likely not believers in the ERA, but only in the profit.

In 1922, Jean du Plessis published The Electronic Reactions of Abrams Exactions and Ichnography. Other companies were beginning to market clones of the oscilloclast. More books and articles began to appear espousing the wonders of the ERA method of diagnosing and treating all diseases.

From In 1916, when Abrams published his New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment, he had been experimenting with what came to be called “the electronic reactions of Abrams” or the E.R.A…

Abrams (contended that) the human body transmitted radiation or “electronic vibrations” from the atomic level, specifically from the electrons.

These electronic vibrations emanating from the electrons, if normal, would vibrate at a specific rate, if they vibrated at an abnormal rate, it would cause or indicate the presence of disease.

Each disease vibrated at a unique rate. In this theory, one could cure disease by transmitting back at the disease the same electronic vibratory rate it was transmitting.

This would neutralize the abnormal vibrations and allow the electrons to return to normal vibration rates and eliminate the disease.

Abrams believed that drugs worked when they had the same or similar “vibrations” as the disease they cured…

He 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 Dynamizer.

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.

The precise rate of vibrations were ascertained by boxes containing resistance coils which were also hooked up by wires to the reagent and Dynamizer.

Dials would be turned to different “ohmage” rates once the disease was identified. This would pinpoint the exact amount and rate of the disease the patient had.

Sometimes horseshoe magnets were placed over the reagent’s head to “clear” him of extraneous “vibrations” to get a better “reaction.”

Methods used later by Abrams and his followers involved stroking the reagent’s abdomen with a glass rod to obtain the “reactions.” Later the reagent was dispensed with altogether and the operator stroked a plate hooked up to the Dynamizer, etc. with his fingers to feel the “vibrations” from the patient’s blood or handwriting.

In all this, numerous things could interfere with the vibrations as they were sensitive in more ways than one. In collecting a blood sample, the patient had to be facing west in dimmed light. No strong orange or red colored material could be present in the room. The same was true when getting the reactions from the reagent to the sample.

In addition to the above, reactions could be driven away by the presence of skeptical minds or enhanced by other mental activity.

For these reasons, most have compared the E.R.A. to psychic phenomena, sympathetic magic and the occult.

Abrams had another device called an oscilloclast which he used to cure patients. This machine supposedly transmitted back at the diseased tissue the same electronic vibrations it was emitting until the patient was “clear” of the electronic reactions in the reagent.

The best account of how Abrams came up with this theory and how he developed these strange methods is given in the pro-E.R.A. book, Report on Radionics.

The American Medical Association (AMA) never did take Dr. Albert Abrams’ claims seriously. No formal investigation of Abrams’ methods was ever undertaken by the AMA. The AMA believed Abrams’ methods and claims were ridiculous on the face of it, and that it therefore wasn’t worth the time and money to investigate it.

The AMA commented on Dr. Abrams and the ERA in their two periodicals: Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and Hygeia (changed to Today’s Health in 1950), the latter being a magazine on health issues for the general public.

Both were edited by Morris Fishbein during the 1920s and 1930s. Morris Fishbein also wrote numerous articles for various popular level magazines on quackery. These were published in book form in 1925 as The Medical Follies. This was followed by The New Medical Follies in 1927 and both were combined and updated in 1932 as Fads and Quackery in Healing.

JAMA began commenting on Albert Abrams and the ERA in response to readers’ letters, beginning with their March 25, 1922, issue (pp. 913-914). This and following articles appeared in “The Propaganda for Reform” section of the Journal that dealt with quackery.

The articles mainly presented some of the clearly ridiculous claims and experiments that Dr. Abrams made with the ERA, such as carrying around on one’s person a cut potato for curative and diagnostic purposes, his claim that numbers and vowels have a “sex,” experiments with determining the outcome of a chicken’s sex before it is born, determining the religion and present location of a patient from a drop of blood or handwriting sample, etc.

A couple JAMA articles dealt with Medical Associations that made the decision to either charge MDs that used Abrams’ oscilloclast with “unethical conduct” for promoting and using quackery, or expelling from their society those who used it. Some JAMA articles recounted tests by other’s of ERA practitioners’ diagnostic ability by sending them blood samples in the mail as requested.

In one case, a blood sample from a fictitious “Miss Bell” and another from a fictitious “Mrs. Jones” were actually blood samples of a male guinea-pig. “Miss Bell” was diagnosed as having various ailments including a streptococcus infection of the “the left [fallopian] tube”.

Another article presented the results of a similar test of an ERA practitioner who was sent the blood of a rooster. The “innocent” and apparently virtuous rooster was diagnosed as having a venereal disease.

JAMA also noted that the California State Journal of Medicine invited Dr. Abrams to participate in a scientific test to see how accurate his ERA tests were in diagnosing diseases. Abrams “flat-footedly” refused.

The AMA’s popular level magazine Hygeia contained numerous articles on quackery and medical “cults” it believed the public should be informed of and warned about. The Hygeia articles on medical fads and quackery continually referred to Abrams as a quack, even stating he may have been the greatest quack of the 20th century…

In 1924, a British committee, The Thomas Horder Committee, was put together to investigate an adaptation or modification of Abrams’ E.R.A. apparatus and technique by Dr. W.E. Boyd of Glasgow

A report of the committee’s findings were recorded in both The Lancet and the British Medical Journal in January of 1925. Basically, the tests of William Ernest Boyd were at first complete failures.

He was asked to differentiate between two different substances placed in the Dynamizer at random. His results were much less than what would be expected by chance.

A physicist was also employed for six months to determine if “any effect measurable or detectable by orthodox physical apparatus was associated with the so-called ‘reactions’. No such change could be found, and this aspect of the work was ultimately abandoned.”

However, after complaining about electronic interference, William Ernest Boyd undertook further tests at his insulated residence with Whatley Smith of the committee in which he was able to differentiate between substances with remarkable accuracy.

For example, he determined when a sample of saliva on filter paper was placed in the Dynamizer correctly 25 times in a row. This was estimated at being done by chance alone at 1 in 33,554,432. Most of the other tests thereafter yielded nearly 100 per cent accuracy…

The entire committee repeated the tests later with Dr. Boyd and obtained similar results. The entire committee was “satisfied” that the results were accurate.

Overall the committee obtained numerous negative results with other E.R.A. practitioners of the Abrams and William Ernest Boyd variety when dealing with diagnosing diseases, much like the Scientific American. However, they obtained some success from William Ernest Boyd in differentiating certain non pathological substances such as “sulfer” and saliva.

Their four stated conclusions were as follows:

(1) That certain substances, when placed in proper relation to the Emanometer of William Ernest Boyd, produce, beyond any reasonable doubt, changes in the abdominal wall of “the subject” of a kind which may be detected by percussion. This is tantamount to the statement that the fundamental proposition underlying, in common, the original and certain other forms of apparatus designed for the purpose of eliciting the so-called electronic reactions of Abrams, is established to a very high degree of probability.

(2) That no evidence justifying this deduction is yet available from the work of those who practice with the apparatus as yet designed by Abrams himself.

(3) That the phenomena appear to be extremely elusive, and highly susceptible to interference, so that in order to obtain reliable results it is necessary to take the most elaborate precautions, particularly as regards the elimination of effects due to irrelevant objects.

(4) That it would be premature at the present time even to hazard in the most tentative manner any hypothesis as to the physical phenomena here described…

James Barr wrote a defense of Albert Abrams in 1925. He begins with a description of the man which seems to be mostly absent in the attacks upon him:

Albert Abrams was born in San Francisco sixty two years ago, the son of wealthy and cultured parents who planned that he should complete his education at Balliol College, Oxford. A visit to Heidelberg, however, decided Abrams that he would prefer to study in the University of that city. And he elected to adopt medicine as a career.

In due course he obtained his MD degree, and after an extended tour of the European clinics, in the course of which he formed friendships with such men as Rudolf Ludwig Karl Virchow, Wasserman, Langerhans, etc.

He returned to his native town and eventually won for himself a national reputation as a specialist in diseases of the nervous system. At the time of the celebrated Thaw trial it was Abrams who sent for to examine and report on the mental responsibility of Stanford’s assassin.

For a long time Abrams was Professor of Pathology, and Director of the Medical Clinic of the Cooper Medical College, and Leland Stanford University of California; among many other positions of honor he held was that of President of the San Francisco Medical Chirurgical Society.

Abrams was the author of many medical text books, the most important and voluminous of the published works being a treatise on the original researches on the subject of the spinal nerve reflexes. The work was translated in to various foreign languages, and ran through five editions in four years, and was hailed by the grave New York Medical journal as “a treatise of extraordinary interest and usefulness”, while another of his books was described by The British Journal of Tuberculosis as “an erudite and elaborate study of new conceptions.”

It is right, and indeed most necessary, that such facts as are detailed above are known, so that the current lies representing Abrams as a sort of mountebank without medical knowledge, degrees, or scientific credentials should be nailed to the counter.

Hear Hear!

Another malicious invention deliberately circulated by Abrams’ enemies repre- sents him as a grasping Shylock with an obsession - not with healing the sick but with making money.

The truth is Abrams - a man of simple desires living a Spartan life - had inherited a vast fortune and far more money that either he needed of could spend.

The writer remembers a pathetic episode which occurred one morning” between cases” in the clinic. “All you fellows go off and enjoy yourselves in your various ways: said Abrams’ “and I dare say some of you envy me. You don’t know. Money has never brought me happiness, for there’s some devil inside me driving me and goading me to always work. My work is my life; I can’t get away from it. I have never known what it is to have what most people call a good time.”

It is true Abrams charges high fees, as other men of acknowledged eminence do, and he charged high prices to the medical men who wished to purchase the instruments he devised and controlled; moreover he demanded a monthly royalty on every instrument which left his factory.

These facts, plus the fact that Abrams bore a Jewish name, lent color to the suggestion, skillfully fostered by his traducers, that acquisitiveness was the outstanding characteristic of his nature. The truth - which the writer can vouch for is so different.

The truth is, that the whole of the money earned by Abrams during the last several years of his life - from consultations and treatment of patients, to teaching, from profits on the sale of his apparatus, from royalties - went into a trust fund administered by a Committee, the object of which was to found and permanently endow, at the earliest possible date and immense Hospital and College in San Francisco, where necessitous patients could be treated gratis and where the teaching of Abrams’ methods, and further research work, could be carried on in ideal conditions.

This Hospital was to be named “The Blanche and Jean R. Abrams Memorial” after the names of the two wives who predeceased him. To this object Abrams contributed an immense sum out of his private accounts, and two months before his death he saw the foundation stone laid.

It was stipulated in the will that the bulk of his huge inheritance should be added to the sum already in the hands of the Hospital trustees.

A childless widower, Abrams working ceaselessly and feverishly, to develop and perfect methods of diagnosis and treatment which he conscientiously believed would revolutionize Medicine and the outlook for suffering humanity.

Like other pioneers who dared to upset established order, he met with furious opposition, some no doubt perfectly sincere, some political (anti-Semitic), some because his treatment threatened vested interests.

But Abram’s was a fighter with very broad shoulders to bear his burdens, and although the attacks to which he was ceaselessly subjected heightened the irritability which he whimsically deplored, nothing altered, of could alter the sweetness and patience which lay beneath the surface.

Everyone suffered sooner or later from one of his explosions of rage; but everyone who knew him loved him, and awaited the inevitable apology. It always came. “Don’t take the slightest notice of me doctor,” he would say and perhaps a few minutes later he would add with a characteristic twinkle. ” I expect I only took one liver pill this morning; of course I ought to have taken two!”

Abrams was a born humorist. And his lectures were full of brilliant epigrams “We are all omnibuses in which our tainted ancestors ride” is a famous Abrams mot which occurs to the writer.

Another characteristic was his passion - in moments of relaxation - for trying out seemingly fantastic experiments. Generally there were undertaken as a break in the middle of a morning’s more serious hard work.

And often he would preface what he was about to do with some joking remark to the effect that,  as half the world had made up its mind that he was crazy, it didn’t matter what he did..

“But,” turning to the class, “don’t any of you start dong this sort of thing or you will find yourselves in my boat”.

Some of these experiments Abrams - rather unwisely - described in a monthly magazine, the Psysico-Clinical journal, which he edited, and the opportunity was not lost by his enemies of using them as weapons with to belittle the more serious work of a great scientist and teacher.

As an example of one of Abrams’ more bizarre experiments, one might instance an attempt to prove that plants could suffer pain. The experiment was interesting, and Abrams, as always, concentrated the whole of his tremendous energy upon it; but that he did not regard such an interlude in the serious way his critics are pleased to pretend, is proved by the characteristic phrase;“Come on now, let’s stop fooling and get back to work”.

‘Fooling!” one wonders.

Abrams would describe anything as fooling which was not directly concerned with the routine work of the that day. But he was never trivial, and the onlooker could not but feel at all times that he was in the presence of a man of genius and of vision who was groping for the light which he inwardly knew would one day illumine places at present very dark.

He worked hard to that end; only a day or two before his death from pneumonia he insisted on taking his usual place in the Clinic and demonstrating his own condition to his class.

His work was in his thoughts to the last. “They jeer at my work and my methods now.” He said as he lay dying “but someday they will know I was right.”

Perhaps the most telling phrase used by Thomas Horder in this recent address on the subject of Abrams ad his work as follows:

‘The fundamental propositions originally announced by Abrams, must be regarded as established to a very high degree of probability.”

Many years ago an inventor described a boat that he was hoping to build which would, he said, be capable of crossing from Liverpool to Boston by the power of steam. A great mathematician and scientist promptly wrote a book in which he conclusively proved that such a thing could never be. That book was carried to Boston on the maiden voyage in question, and is now a cherished possession of the Boston Museum.

In addition to support from Upton Sinclair, two other advocates of Abrams were James Barr (a past President of the British Medical Association) and Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes detective novels). James Barr duplicated some of Abrams’s experiments and described him as one of the greatest medical geniuses of his time (Russell, 1973, 17). 13

Upton Sinclair was Abrams’s strongest advocate in part because Upton Sinclair had interviewed hundreds of health professionals and patients who used or were treated by radionics diagnosis and treatment.

Upton Sinclair asserted: ”[Abrams] has made the most revolutionary discovery of this or any other age. I venture to stake whatever reputation I ever hope to have that he has discovered the great secret of the diagnosis and cure of all major diseases.”

Further, Upton Sinclair claimed that Abrams had treated “over fifteen thousand people, and my investigation convinces me he has cured over ninety-five percent.”

From (With thanks to David Little) In 1922 the I.H.A. requested The Foundation for Homeopathic Research, under the auspices of Guy Beckley Stearns. to investigate the claims of Albert Abrams that the traditional clinical reflexes responded to homeopathic remedies in a thorough scientific manner and to report back to the association.

The results of this study were delivered 10 years later in a lecture before the I.H.A. Bureau of Clinical Medicine on June 9, 11, 1932 and was published in The Homoeopathic Recorder on Nov. 15, 1932.

The report confirmed the abdominal reflexes of White, Albert Abrams, and William Ernest Boyd and much, much more.

The list of clinical observations that react to the contact of homeopathic remedies included the change of percussion tones of the abdomen and the chest; relaxation of the muscles and connective tissue on palpation; changes in the heart beat, pulse rate and character; changes in the respiratory rate, dilation of the pupils: intensification of the color of the iris; direct observation of the blood flow changes in the capillaries by transillumination of the ear lobes and webs of the fingers; direct observation of the variation in the caliber of the veins on the back of the hand; movements in the fine reticulations of the skin; changes of shade of colored pigments when they are rubbed into the skin; observation by fluoroscope of the changes in the amplitude of the heart pulsations; impediment of a dielectric rod when rubbed on the skin; and changes of sensations associated with touch; and changes in the taste.

Out of these various tests the easiest methods to use in the clinic are the pupil dilation effect; changes in pulse and respiration, the percussion of the abdomen and chest cavity; and the impeding of a dielectric rod or glass bottle on the skin of the abdomen, on the inside of the arm, and near the spine.

One who is skilled in the art of palpation can also detect changes in the tonus of the muscles and tissues of the body to remedies.

All of these effects are the reaction of the autonomic nervous system to the radiations of energy waves from the homeopathic remedy. In fact many of these reflexes will react before the vial is actually brought into contact with the patient.

Albert Abrams was born in San Francisco in 1863.  In his teen years he learned German and graduated as an MD from Heidelberg in 1882. He became Professor of Pathology at Cooper College in San Francisco in 1893 and resigned in 1898.  He was also elected Vice President of the California State Medical Society in 1889 and made President of the San Francisco Medico Churgical Society in 1893.

Abrams was born in San Francisco around 1863, giving dates a couple of years either way on occasions. Between 1910 and 1918, Abrams published several books on a medical technique he called _Spondylotherapy_, a manipulative technique not dissimilar to Chiropractic and Osteopathy, but involving electricity. Abrams described the theory and practice of _Spondylotherapy_ in a 1910 book by that name.

Albert Abrams wrote Transactions of the Antiseptic Club, The Blues (splanchnic neurasthenia), Scattered Leaves from a Physician’s Diary, Spondylotherapy, Progressive Spondylotherapy, 1914, Man and His Poisons, Diseases of the Heart, The Aortic Reflexes, Cardio-splanchnic Phenomenon of Abrams, Human energy, Diagnostic Therapeutics, Clinical Diagnosis, Manual of Clinical Diagnosis, The Electronic Reactions of Abrams, Diary of a Physician, Nervous Breakdown, New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment, Popular Demonstration of Thought-transference and Kindred Phenomena, A Popular catechism of consumption, Pulmonary Phthisis; Report of Committee on Microscopy and Histology, The Physical Signs of Incipient Pulmonary Tuberculosis, The Intestinal and Stomach Reflexes, Some Cardiorespiratory Phenomena Revealed by the Röntgen Rays, The Stomach Reflex and Percussion of the Stomach, The Concussional Vertebral Reflexes, Abrams’ Method of Treatment in Aneurysms, A Scientific Interpretation of Kuatsu, Or, The Japanese Method of Restoring Life, Collection of papers, Monographs of Dr. Albert Abrams, and by James Barr, On Some of Albert Abrams’ Methods of Diagnosis & Treatment.


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