From the 1950s through the 70s Holmesburg Prison became the “supermarket” or “kmart” for human medical experiments conducted by Dr. Albert Kligman, a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist. Under his direction hundreds of painful experiments were conducted involving nearly 1,000 inmates. He recalled his first visit to the prison: “All I saw before me, were acres of skin . . . It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.” (Hornblum. Acres of Skin, 1998)
Kligman proceeded to exploit those “acres of skin” testing a garden variety of benogn and toxic chemicals including, psychopharmacological experiments such as, LSD, BZ; radioactive experiments, infectious diseases agents, and skin product experiments on behalf of 33 pharmaceutical companies and secret service government agencies. In 1964, Medical News reported that 9 out of 10 Holmesburg prisoners were subjects of his medical experiments. Even benign tests involving toothpaste, detergents, hair dye, and deodorant involved painful biopsies.
One Army-funded experiment, focused on “the effects of poisonous vapors on the skin.” The study included machines “that create radioactive isotopes” and drop “small amounts” of highly toxic substances “on a limited area of [the inmate’s] skin.” Kligman proclaimed, “This is a program for national defense . . . once such vapors get through the skin they can destroy the nerve system and the central function of the brain.” Similar experiments were conducted at Edgewood Arsenal on U.S. soldiers. *<link> Soldiers Guinea Pigs