December 28

1951–1974: Dr. Albert Kligman’s “supermarket” variety of experiments at Holmesburg Prison

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


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