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Objective: To explore the methods and debate surrounding late nineteenth and early twentieth century railroad companies’ screening of employees for colorblindness and the effect it had on subsequent testing by other industries and professions.

Methods: The author looked through issues of The Railway Surgeon, the official journal of the now-defunct National Association of Railway Surgeons, for articles on colorblindness and color vision testing as well as the 1905 edition of Color Vision and Color-Blindness: A Manual for Railroad Surgeons. Secondary literature on the subject was obtained via PubMed, MEDLINE, and other scholarly article databases.

Conclusions: Railroad medicine and the surgeons who practiced it influenced the study of colorblindness and set a precedent for occupational vision testing, a practice still in existence today.

Implications: If railroad medicine impacted color vision testing, it may have influenced other aspects of American medicine, especially occupational medicine.


This unpublished essay was the winner of the Medical Library Association's Erich Meyerhoff Prize in 2015.