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Koller and cocaine

Carl Koller, MD (1858-1944) and Cocaine

Carl Koller modernized the medical field while he was still in school at the University of Vienna, Royal General Hospital. It was the peak of the Belle Epoque - a period of approximately 50 years that heralded the modernization of Europe. An era of experimentation and consequently numerous medical advancements including those made by Koller and his friend, and colleague, Sigmund Freud.

Freud began researching the known properties and uses of cocaine with a primary focus on its general physiological effects. Koller occasionally joined Freud in his experiments and, in the summer of 1884, Koller had an epiphany: "Freud's miracle drug" could be used as a local anesthetic, a topic Koller had researched years earlier to no fruition.

Koller first published his observations in September 1884 and they were quickly disseminated around the world. Because of the differing nature of their inquiries, Freud held no ill will toward Koller. He even flippantly called his friend "Coca Koller" in their later personal correspondence. In the years following the discovery of cocaine, its properties and uses, the drug expanded into other medical specialties and surgical practices.

Over his lifetime, Koller received many awards for his discovery. Most notably he was the first to receive the Lucien Howe Medal, awarded by the American Ophthalmological Society in 1922. Koller was also honored with the Adolf Kussmaul Award Medal in 1902 and the New York Academy of Medicine Award Medal in 1930.



  1. Helmholtz and the ophthalmoscope
  2. Koller and cocaine
  3. Graefe and glaucoma
  4. Gullstrand and the Nobel Prize
  5. Jackson and medical education
  6. Ridley and cataract
  7. Machemer and the vitreous

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Sectional Navigation

  1. Selections from the Sherman Collection
  2. History of Ophthalmology in the Asia Pacific
  3. Their Eyes to the Sky
  4. Great Insights and Great Thinkers in Ophthalmology
  5. Beyond Ophthalmology, Beyond the Clinic
  6. Extreme Vision: Science Fiction or Truth
  7. Contagion! Epidemics in Ophthalmic History
  8. The Eyes of War
  9. Spectacular Spectacles
  10. To Fool the Eye
  11. Windows to the Soul
  12. Picturing The Eye: Ophthalmic Film and Photography
  13. Collecting Ophthalmology: 30 Years at the Museum

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