The Polio Epidemic in History

Historical Events


Historic DiscoveryPolio

1894-06-17 1st US poliomyelitis epidemic breaks out in Rutland, Vermont

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Children with polio in a US hospital, inside an iron lung. In about 0.5% of cases, patients suffered from paralysis, sometimes resulting in the inability to breathe. More often, limbs would be paralyzed.
Children with polio in a US hospital, inside an iron lung. In about 0.5% of cases, patients suffered from paralysis, sometimes resulting in the inability to breathe. More often, limbs would be paralyzed.
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Event of interestEvent of Interest

1921-08-10 FDR stricken with a paralytic illness at summer home on Canadian island of Campobello. At the time it was thought to be polio, but could possibly have been Guillain–Barré syndrome

32nd US President Franklin D. Roosevelt
32nd US President
Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • 1938-01-03 March of Dimes established to fight polio

InventionScientific Discovery

1953-03-26 Dr. Jonas Salk announces that he has successfully tested a vaccine to prevent polio, clinical trials began the next year

Medical Researcher and Virologist Jonas Salk
Medical Researcher and Virologist
Jonas Salk
  • 1954-02-23 1st mass inoculation against polio with the Jonas Salk vaccine takes place at Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh
  • 1954-04-26 Mass trials of Jonas Salk's anti-polio vaccine begin; the first shot is delivered in Fairfax County, Virginia; more than 443,000 children receive shots over three months
  • 1955-04-12 Polio vaccine tested by Jonas Salk announced to be 'safe and effective' and is given full approval by the US Food and Drug Administration
  • 1955-11-03 Scientists Carlton E. Schwerdt and Fred L. Schaffer announce they have crystallized the pure polio virus, meaning they can better determine the virus' chemical and biological properties

Event of interestEvent of Interest

1956-10-06 Scientist Albert Sabin announces that his oral polio vaccine is ready for testing; it would soon supplant Jonas Salk's vaccine in many parts of the world

Physician and Scientist Albert Sabin
Physician and Scientist
Albert Sabin
Medical Researcher and Virologist Jonas Salk
Medical Researcher and Virologist
Jonas Salk
  • 2012-02-25 World Health Organization removes India from the list of polio endemic countries
  • 2012-12-18 6 health workers dispensing polio vaccinations are gunned down in Pakistan
  • 2018-06-26 Polio outbreak confirmed in New Guinea by WHO, 18 years after it was declared free of the disease
  • 2019-08-21 Nigeria goes three years without a case of polio in landmark toward eradication of the disease
  • 2020-08-25 WHO announces that Africa has eradicated polio (defined as four years since last case)

Famous Birthdays

  • 1897-02-10 John Franklin Enders, Conn, microbiologist (polio-Nobel 1954)

Person of interestAlbert Sabin

1906-08-26 Albert Sabin [Abram Saperstein], Polish American physician who invented the oral polio vaccine, born in Bialystok, Russian Empire

Physician and Scientist Albert Sabin
Physician and Scientist
Albert Sabin

Person of interestJonas Salk

1914-10-28 Jonas Salk, American medical scientist (created the polio vaccine), born in NYC, New York (d. 1995)

Medical Researcher and Virologist Jonas Salk
Medical Researcher and Virologist
Jonas Salk
  • 1920-10-24 Julius Youngner, American scientist, helped develop Salk polio vaccine, born in Manhattan, New York (d. 2017)
  • 1945-08-31 Itzhak Perlman, violinist/polio victim (14 Grammys), born in Tel Aviv, Israel

Famous Deaths


Person of interestAlbert Sabin

1993-03-03 Albert Sabin [Abram Saperstein], Polish American physician who invented the oral polio vaccine, dies of heart failure at 86

Physician and Scientist Albert Sabin
Physician and Scientist
Albert Sabin

Person of interestJonas Salk

1995-06-23 Jonas Salk, American biologist who created the Polio vaccine, dies of heart failure at 80

Medical Researcher and Virologist Jonas Salk
Medical Researcher and Virologist
Jonas Salk

Person of interestArthur C. Clarke

2008-03-19 Arthur C. Clarke, English sci-fi author (2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood's End), dies of post-polio syndrome at 90

Sci-Fi Author Arthur C. Clarke
Sci-Fi Author
Arthur C. Clarke
  • 2017-04-27 Julius Youngner, American virologist, helped develop Salk polio vaccine, dies at 96
  • 2018-08-20 Eddie Willis, American guitar and sitar player (The Funk Brothers), dies of polio complications at 82

Famous Physicians