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Joseph Goldberger

Joseph Goldberger

Portrait of epidemiologist and U.S. Public Health Service physician Dr. Joseph Goldberger.
BornJuly 16 1874(1874-07-16)
Giralt, Hungary
DiedJanuary 17 1929 (aged 54)
Washington, D.C.
InstitutionsUnited States Public Health Service

Joseph Goldberger, M.D. (Hungarian: Goldberger József) (July 16, 1874–January 17, 1929) was a physician and epidemiologist in the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and an advocate for scientific and social recognition of the links between poverty and disease.[1] He was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize for his work on the etiology of pellagra.



Early life

Joseph Goldberger was born in Girált, Hungary (now Giraltovce, Slovakia). The youngest of six children, he emigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1883, eventually settling in Manhattan's Lower East Side. After completing his secondary education in the public schools, Goldberger entered the City College of New York to pursue an engineering career. After a chance encounter in 1892, however, Goldberger became interested in medicine and transferred to the Bellevue Hospital Medical College (now the New York University School of Medicine), earning his M.D. degree in 1895.

Professional career

After setting-up a private medical practice in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania following his graduation, Goldberger became intellectually restless.[2] In 1899, he joined the Public Health Service, where his first post was at the Port of New York, providing health inspections of new immigrants.

From 1902–1906, Goldberger held a variety of epidemiology posts—Mexico to Puerto Rico, Mississippi to Louisiana—involving the PHS efforts to combat yellow fever, typhus, dengue fever, and typhoid fever. A particularly noted lecture he gave took place in Boston, Massachusetts on the effects of parasites in disease transmission. In 1909, Goldberger published research on Shamberg's disease, an acarine mite-based parasitic infection common among poor, inner-city populations. Goldberger also worked with John F. Anderson investigating the transmission of measles and typhus.[2]


In 1914, Goldberger was asked by US Surgeon General Rupert Blue to investigate pellagra, an endemic disease in the Southern US.[3] Goldberger's theory that pellagra was associated with diet contradicted the then commonly-held medical opinion that pellagra was an infectious disease.[4] After multiple restricted-diet experiments with groups of volunteers spanning several years, Goldberger was able to demonstrate that individuals who consumed heavily corn-based diets (to the virtual exclusion of other foods) were at a greatly increased risk of contracting pellagra.[2][3][5]

Despite his careful experiments, Goldberger's discovery proved socially and politically untenable and he made little progress in securing support for treating pellagra.[2] With further research, Goldberger was able to demonstrate that a Vitamin B deficiency was the cause of pellagra in 1926. Conrad Elvehjem discovered the specific mechanism -- that pellagra is caused by a dietary lack of the B vitamin niacin along with reduced levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan—in 1937.[6]

Joseph Goldberger died on January 17, 1929 from renal cell carcinoma.[3]


  • Goldberger was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize.
  • Upon his death, Goldberger's wife received a $125-a-month pension thanks to a special congressional bill that recognized the value of his work.
  • In 1940, John Nesbitt produced a short film about Goldberger titled A Way in the Wilderness, directed by Fred Zinnemann and staring Shepperd Strudwick.[7]


  1. ^ Evans BK; Feinstein AR. (1994). "Joseph Goldberger: an unsung hero of American clinical epidemiology.". Ann Intern Med. 121 (5): 372–375.
  2. ^ a b c d Parsons RP (1943). Trail to light: A biography of Joseph Goldberger. Bobbs-Merrill. ASIN B0007DYTFM. 
  3. ^ a b c Dr. Joseph Goldberger and the War on Pellagra. NIH Archives. Retrieved on 2007-01-23.
  4. ^ Bollet A (1992). "Politics and pellagra: the epidemic of pellagra in the U.S. in the early twentieth century". Yale J Biol Med 65 (3): 211-21. PMID 1285449.
  5. ^ Goldberger J, Wheeler GA (1915). "Experimental pellagra in the human subject brought about by a restricted diet". Public Health Reports 30: p. 3336.
  6. ^ Koehn CJ, Elvehjem CA (1937). "Further studies on the concentration of the antipellagra factor". J Bio Chem 118 (3): 693–699.
  7. ^ (1940). A Way in the Wilderness [Motion picture].

NAME Goldberger, Joseph
SHORT DESCRIPTION Hungarian-American epidemiologist
DATE OF BIRTH July 16, 1874
PLACE OF BIRTH Giralt, Hungary
DATE OF DEATH January 17, 1929
PLACE OF DEATH Washington, D.C.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Joseph_Goldberger". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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