William Hammond

William Alexander Hammond (1828 – 1900) was an American neurologist, military physician, surgeon and naturalist.

Hammond was one of the most colourful and controversial figures in the history of the United States Army Medical Corps and American medicine.

Hammond rose to the rank of Brigadier General Surgeon in the Army; was court-martialed and dismissed in 1864; published the first American textbook of neurology in 1871; wrote 7 novels; attained degrees in medicine (MD) and law (LLD); translated German textbooks; and… has a toad, a snake and a bird named after him…


  • Born 28 August 1828 in Annapolis, MD, USA
  • 1848 – MD, New York University
  • 1849 – Intern, Pennsylvania Hospital of Philadelphia. Along with Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) he described the neurological aspects of venomous snakebite
  • 1849-1860 Surgeon in the American Army rising to Brigadier Surgeon General
  • 1862 – Hammond clashed with Edward M. Stanton, Secretary of War, and was court-martialed (1864, verdict reversed 1878).
  • 1867-1873 Professor of Nervous and Mental Diseases, Bellevue Hospital Medical College, New York
  • 1875 – One of the principle co-founders of the American Neurological Association
  • 1882 – Co-founder of New York Medical School
  • Died 5 January 1900 in Washington, DC, USA

Medical Eponyms

Hammond disease (athetosis)

A condition in which there is a constant succession of slow, writhing, involuntary movements of flexion, extension, pronation, and supination of the fingers and hands, and sometimes of the toes and feet. Usually caused by an extrapyramidal lesion.

Other eponyms

Hammond started collecting specimens on the Pacific Railroad Survey and at Fort Riley, for the Smithsonian collection and Spencer Fullerton Baird, naturalist and museum curator.

Key Medical Attributions

In spite of his varied military activities he found time to engage in serious and productive investigations, primarily in physiology. Isolated from any great medical centers, he was original in his research, often using himself as the subject of his experiments. Such as his 1857 ‘Experimental researches relative to the nutritive value and physiological effects of albumen, starch, and gum, when singly and exclusively used as food…’ and of course:

The Physiological Effects of Alcohol and Tobacco upon the Human..

The present paper is intended to exhibit the action of alcohol and tobacco upon the system generally, and, more especially, upon the important functions concerned in the metamorphosis of tissue. The experiments illustrative of the effects of these substances were performed upon myself, and were conducted with all the care and accuracy which my limited facilities permitted. Those only who are familiar with investigations of this character can appreciate the time and labor necessary to conduct them properly

Hammond 1856


Court-martial and Army dismissal


  • Cerebellum
  • Athetosis

Scientific Skepticism

  • Spiritualism, Mediums
  • Fasting girls and stigmata

Major Publications

Literary works

Open Letters…


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 |

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