Joseph Goldberger Biographical File

Summary Information

VUMC Historical Images and Biographies
Joseph Goldberger Biographical File
Date [inclusive]
1914 - 1984
0.0 Cubic feet
Biographical file includes biographical notes, photograph, generous correspondence, news clippings, and academic journal articles.

Preferred Citation

Goldberger, Joseph (1874-1929). Eskind Biomedical Library Special Collections, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN.

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Historical or Biographical Note

Joseph Goldberger was born in 1874 in Austria-Hungary. When he was six years old, Goldberger and his family emigrated to the United States, settling on Manhattan's East Side. Goldberger enrolled in City College in New York at the age of sixteen, determined to study engineering. At the end of his second year, Goldberger decided to study medicine instead. In 1895, he obtained his medical degree from Bellevue and began private practice in a small Pennsylvania city.

After two years, Goldberger decided to take a competitive exam to enter the Marine Hospital Service, and he joined its ranks in 1899. The Marine Hospital Service, responsible for caring for sick merchant seamen and for fighting epidemics, was renamed the Public Health Service in 1902. During his time at the Public Health Service, Goldberger specialized in preventive medicine, infectious diseases, and nutrition. He fought tropical fevers, typhus, typhoid, and other infectious outbreaks throughout the United States and the Caribbean.

In 1914, impressed with Goldberger's success, the Surgeon General of the United States appointed him to study the disease pellagra, which was becoming prevalent in the southern United States. Pellagra is characterized by skin rashes, mouth sores, diarrhea, and, if untreated, mental deterioration. At the time, pellagra was thought to be an infectious disease. However, as Goldberger traveled throughout the South observing those with pellagra, he never contracted the disease. He noticed that impoverished people were more likely to get pellagra. Institutions such as prisons, asylums, and orphanages also had higher levels of pellagra, and residents of these institutions also had similar limited diets. Due to political and social circumstances, however, Goldberger had difficulty convincing others of this theory. In 1926, he reported that the lack of one of the B vitamins was responsible for pellagra, though he was unable to identify the specific vitamin.

Goldberger passed away in 1929, at the age of fifty-four. In 1937, Conrad Elvehjem at the University of Wisconsin discovered that nicotinic acid, better known as niacin (vitamin B3), prevented and healed pellagra.

Yellow fever, typhoid, dengue fever, straw-itch, cholera, and diphtheria are also some of the public health problems to which Goldberger made outstanding contributions.

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Administrative Information

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Subject Headings

Other Keywords - Digital Library Subjects

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Nutrition
  • Preventive Medicine

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