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Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

 

The 1950s are often considered to be a safe and quiet decade when American families moved to the suburbs, drove large modern automobiles, and enjoyed a stable and prosperous economy. But beneath this tranquil scene, parents faced a great fear -- the dreaded poliomyelitis, or polio, as it is commonly known. The disease had killed over thirteen hundred Americans (a large percentage were children) and crippled more than eighteen thousand in the year 1954 alone. On April 12, 1955, American received the much-welcomed news that Dr. Jonas Salk had developed a vaccine against the frightening disease. Immediately, the federal government implemented a plan to have the vaccine produced by six licensed pharmaceutical companies and distributed to children throughout the country.  Within one year, the deaths attributed to polio declined by 50 per cent, and this downward trend continues to the present when polio has been totally eradicated in most of the world.

Charts and graphs with figures on polio cases in the United States [Oveta Culp Hobby Papers, Box 23, Salk Vaccine-April and May 1955]

Report, "Alternative Calculations of Total Costs and Federal Shares" concerning polio vaccinations [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 511, 117-I-1 Salk Polio Vaccine (1)]

White House press release with text of citations given by the President to Dr. Jonas E. Salk and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, April 22, 1955 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 511, 117-I-1 Infantile Paralysis]

Supplement by Oveta Culp Hobby to the citations above, April 22, 1955 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 511, 117-I-1 Infantile Paralysis]

Remarks by Oveta Culp Hobby, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, given at a conference on the Salk polio vaccine, April 22, 1955 [Oveta Culp Hobby Papers, Box 44, April 22, 1955 Conference on Salk Vaccine]

Senate Bill S.2501 authorizing grants to the states to assist in providing children and expectant mothers with the vaccination against poliomyelitis [White House Office, Records Officer Reports to the President on Pending Legislation, Box 65, Appr. 8/12/55]

Press release statement by the President about the polio vaccine situation, May 31, 1955 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 511, 117-I-1 Salk Polio Vaccine (3)]

Press release statement by the President supporting the drive for polio vaccinations, May 17, 1958 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 511, 117-I-1 Salk Polio Vaccine (4)]

Supplemental report to the President by the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare on the distribution of the polio vaccine, July 13, 1955 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 511, 117-I-1 Salk Polio Vaccine (3)]

Minutes of Cabinet Meeting on the Salk vaccine, April 29, 1955 [DDE's Papers as President, Cabinet Series, Box 5, Cabinet Meeting of 4/29/55]

Cabinet Paper, CI-24, "The Salk Vaccine", April 29, 1955 [DDE's Papers as President, Cabinet Series, Box 5, Cabinet Meeting of 4/29/55]

Telegram, Spencer to President regarding distribution of commercial polio vaccine, April 15, 1955 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 511, 117-I-1 Salk Polio Vaccine (1)]

Press release regarding the Cutter Laboratories vaccine, April 30, 1955 [Oveta Culp Hobby Papers, Box 23, Salk Vaccine-April and May 1955]

Images in the audiovisual collection

Secondary resources on this topic include:

Breakthrough: The Saga of Jonas Salk by Richard Carter, Trident Press, New York, 1966.

Patenting the Sun: Polio and The Salk Vaccine by Jane S. Smith, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1990.

For additional information please see:

Salk Polio Vaccine Subject Guide