William Thomson (1833-1907). Military surgeon, pioneer photomicrographer, clinical ophthalmologist

Lorenz E. Zimmerman, Daniel Albert, Joe M. Blumberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

William Thomson, who was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and who received his M.D. at Jefferson College in 1855, entered the U. S. Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and served with the Army of the Potomac. Having gained the attention of President Lincoln for his superior organization of medical service and care for 2500 wounded men, Thomson was subsequently placed in charge of the Douglas Hospital, which, under his management, became a model for other Army general hospitals. There he also pioneered in the medical application of photography and in the development of photomicrography. Through his efforts and influence on the Surgeon General, a Photographic Bureau was established at the Army's then one-year-old medical museum. This bureau subsequently evolved into the Medical Illustration Service of The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. There is ample reason for believing that at least some of the credit generally given to Dr. Joseph Janvier Woodward for having developed photomicrography at the Army Medical Museum belongs instead to Dr. Thomson. A letter from Woodward to Thomson acknowledging the latter's primacy is reproduced. Led by his interest in photography to a study of optics, Thomson, upon his return to civilian life in Philadelphia, took up ophthalmology and became one of the nation's first physicians to limit himself to one specialty. He acquired a large and lucrative practice but nevertheless managed to keep careful records containing detailed notes regarding refraction and ophthalmoscopy, fields in which he also pioneered. He is believed to be the first physician in Philadelphia to have used the ophthalmoscope in diagnosing a brain tumor, and he is certainly the first to have confirmed his clinical diagnosis of papilledema by histopathologic study and photomicrographic documentation of the swollen optic discs. Thomson became Surgeon, and subsequently Emeritus Surgeon at the Wills Eye Hospital, and Professor and subsequently Emeritus Professor at the Jefferson Medical College. While today his name is not well known among military surgeons, pioneer photomicrographers, or ophthalmologists, his portrait by Thomas Eakins was included in an exhibit on "Art In Philadelphia Medicine" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and his medical records and instruments are preserved in the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-497
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Ophthalmology
Volume69
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1970
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Museums
Photomicrography
Photography
Art
Physicians
Medical Illustration
Ophthalmoscopes
Hospital Charges
Ophthalmoscopy
Military Hospitals
Papilledema
Optic Disk
Ophthalmology
Brain Neoplasms
General Hospitals
Documentation
Names
Medical Records
Disease Outbreaks
Medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology

Cite this

William Thomson (1833-1907). Military surgeon, pioneer photomicrographer, clinical ophthalmologist. / Zimmerman, Lorenz E.; Albert, Daniel; Blumberg, Joe M.

In: American Journal of Ophthalmology, Vol. 69, No. 3, 01.01.1970, p. 487-497.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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