Charles J. Aldrich

Charles J. Aldrich (1861 - 1908) 300

Charles John Aldrich (1861-1908) was an American neurologist.

Aldrich was a very able and prolific contributor to current medical literature. Among the more important articles which came from his pen were those on Caisson Disease, The Nervous Complications and Sequelae of Pneumonia, Head Nodding, Tic and Trap-Drummer’s Neuroses.

Aldrich was also an art critic of considerable renown and his broad culture made him a most entertaining and agreeable companion. Few were aware of his talents as a writer of fiction; of absorbing interest to the physician and student of psychology, being founded on facts which came into the Doctor’s possession through special cases, criminal and otherwise, to which he was called in the capacity of an expert. 

  • Born on October 13, 1861 in Spencer, Ohio
  • 1882 – Received lectures at the Western Reserve Medical College; MD from the medical department of Wooster University
  • 1883 – House physician, Charity Hospital
  • 1890 – Physician, Cleveland General Hospital and lecturer on clinical neurology and anatomy of the nervous system and nervous diseases, Wooster University
  • 1893 – visiting neurologist to the Cleveland City Hospital and became consulting neurologist and psychiatrist to St. Luke’s Hospital
  • 1900 – President of the Cuyahoga County Medical Society (1859-1902)
  • 1904 – Neurologist, Cleveland General Hospital and City Hospital
  • 1905 – Professor of Nervous and Mental Disease, Cleveland College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • 1905 – President, Cleveland Academy of Medicine
  • Died on April 29, 1908 at Lakeside hospital aged 47, after a prolonged illness

Medical Eponyms
Mees Lines (1919)

In 1904, Aldrich published a description of three cases which he consulted upon in 1899. Aldrich termed the phenomenon ‘Leuconychia striata arsenicalis transversus‘. His publication was 15 years prior to that of eponymised Dutch physician Rudolf Adriaan Mees.

Case 1

Five years ago at the Cleveland City Hospital, while examining a woman suffering from a very severe arsenical neuritis, I was struck by the observance of a peculiar white transverse line occupying the middle of the outer third of the finger-nails of each hand. Taking into consideration the fact that the nails grow more rapidly following arsenical poisoning, I was able to estimate that these white lines corresponded to the time when, with suicidal intent, she had taken a teaspoonful of “Rough on Rats,” which is well known to contain a large quantity of arsenic.

Aldrich 1904: 702

Case 2

The white streaks were about one-sixteenth of an inch in width, quite regular, with fairly sharp margins, and occupying an identical position on each nail. They were slightly larger on some nails than upon others and a little wider in the centre than near the margins; extended from side to side, forming a crescentic band, with the convexity directed to the free margins of the nail, and presenting a curve identical with that of the lunula. The markings were less plainly seen upon the toe-nails.

Aldrich-1904-fig-2-Mees-lines colorize
Figure 2: Aldrich, 1904

At that time I looked through the literature very carefully, but was unable to discover any reference whatever to such lines occurring in arsenical poisoning, and while I felt positive that in my case they were caused by the mineral, yet decided to wait for further confirmation of that opinion.

Aldrich 1904: 703

Prior to submitting his report for publication, Aldrich came upon the report of a case of arsenical neuritis by Florence R. Sabin, in which she described a white line running transversely across each finger-nail in a case of acute arsenic poisoning. Aldrich contacted Sabin with the following response:

Your note in regard to the white lines in the nails in cases of arsenical poisoning has interested me greatly. I do not know of any references in the literature, and Dr. Osler says that he does not. Dr. Osler expressed himself as anxious to see the photographs of your cases.

Dr Florence Sabin 1902

In 1900 a significant number of cases of arsenical neuritis were reported in beer-drinkers throughout England. Aldrich communicated with the physicians treating these patients in Manchester including Dr’s Nathan Raw, Leslie Roberts and Ernest Reynolds. Reynolds response on May 2, 1903 is worthy of note:

The white transverse streaks on the nails of cases of arsenical poisoning had already been noted and described by me. (See Lancet, January 19, 1901.) Also, you will there find an account of several parallel transverse streaks which I stated would almost suggest a series of drinking debauches. I am much obliged for your letter and much interested in it, as it corroborates my own observations. At the time a well-known skin specialist told me he did not think that the transverse streak had anything to do with the arsenical poisoning, but I observed it too frequently for it to have been a mere coincidence.

ES Reynolds 1903

Major Publications



Eponymous terms


Dr Kathryn Scott LITFL Author

Graduated from Southampton Medical School in 2017 with BMBS. Working in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Emergency Department in Perth, Australia.

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.