The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Robert Abbe, Radium Pioneer

In Memory of Dr. Robert Abbe 1851-1928

In the early years following its discovery, radium remained exceedingly rare and phenomenally expensive. One of the few to obtain the seemingly miraculous new substance was a Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia: New York surgeon Robert Abbe. He would become one of the first physicians in the world to experiment with using radium to treat cancer. 

Abbe was born in New York City on April 13, 1851, and received his M.D. from Columbia University in 1874. A true renaissance man, Abbe’s skills and interests included sketching, painting, and photography, all of which served him well in documenting his work as a medical researcher. After he finished medical school, Abbe developed a prominent practice in New York City. Abbe was an innovator, particularly in plastic surgery. He pioneered several procedures including the “Abbe flap” technique, used to repair damaged lips, which still bears his name.