Joseph Goldberger arrived in the United States in 1883 as a nine year old immigrant from Austria-Hungary. In 1895, he earned his medical degree from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City.
After several years struggling to maintain a private practice, Goldberger entered the Public Health Service in 1899. In an ironic twist of fate, Goldberger's early years in the Service were spent inspecting immigrants and dealing with issues relating to quarantine.
However, Goldberger's real gifts lay in his abilities as a researcher. By 1918, he had led investigations into a range of diseases, most notably pellagra. At that time, pellagra was rampant in the American South. Goldberger's discovery that pellagra was caused by a dietary deficiency paved the way for the eradication of the disease.
In 1918, Goldberger was tapped to work on influenza. Working with a collaborators from the Navy, Goldberger began a series of experiments designed to determine the causes of influenza and the ways in which the disease spread.
The experiments, which used military personnel as volunteers, were initiated in November of 1918. Attempts were made to infect healthy volunteers with influenza using both secretions from influenza sufferers and pure cultures of Pfeiffer's bacillus, which was believed to be the cause of influenza. None of the volunteers contracted influenza. Researchers remained at a loss as to the real causes of influenza (click here to discover how researchers determined the cause of influenza).
In the years following the pandemic, Goldberger turned away from influenza to work on other issues, including the interconnections between poverty and ill-health.
Goldberger died on January 17, 1929.