Polio, or more properly poliomyelitis, was one of the most feared and studied
diseases of the first half of the 20th Century. It appeared unpredictably,
striking its victims, mostly children, with a frightening randomness that
resulted in near panic during the epidemics of the 1940s and 50s. Then, in 1955,
a breakthrough occurred when, after massive field trials involving nearly
two-million children, the Salk vaccine was shown to be effective in preventing
the disease. Today, polio is all-but-forgotten as it has been nearly eradicated from developed countries.
Polio's legacy remains, however. It is estimated
that there are 600,000 polio survivors living in the United States,
and the number worldwide must be in the tens of millions.
Drawing from my book, Polio's Legacy: An Oral History,
this site provides everything teachers need to include information on
polio in their unit on the 1950s or the history of disease, including excerpts
from polio narratives; a polio timeline; and information about the disease,
its history, and its late effects. The materials provided here should
also be quite useful to students doing school reports on polio. If
you have a specific question about polio, e-mail me at
and I will do my best to answer it.
Remembering Polio: A
Ghost from Summers Past
An article summarizing our oral history
What is Poliomyelitis?
Basic information about the disease and
some of its mysteries.
A slightly revised version of the history
chapter from Polio's Legacy.
A clickable timeline from the 1700s to 2000.
the Polio Narratives
Excerpts organized by topic with a clickable
A set of 25 questions, complete with a printable
worksheet, coinciding with the information within the Polio
Pages. See also,
Franklin D. Roosevelt's
for These Pages
Links to Other Polio
An annotated list, not only of pages dealing
with polio history, but also links to pages about the polio
virus, polio vaccines, global eradication efforts, and post-polio
Most of the information on these pages comes
from my book, Polio's Legacy: An Oral History. If
you would like to obtain a copy, contact your school or public
library. If they do not have a copy on hand, they should be able
to obtain one through interlibrary loan.
This page was published
by Edmund J. Sass, Ed. D., Professor Emeritus of Education at
the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University.
You may reach him at
Last updated November 22,