On April 12, 1955, scientists and reporters gathered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a momentous event. Millions of Americans huddled around radios and televisions that day to learn whether the world’s first polio vaccine, developed by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh, could prevent a devastating disease that killed and paralyzed thousands upon thousands of people, mainly children.
It’s hard to overstate the terror of polio back then. It would arrive each summer, like clockwork, leaving behind vivid reminders for all to see: wheelchairs, crutches, leg braces, iron lungs, deformed limbs. When Dr. Salk’s injectable vaccine was declared “safe, effective, and potent” that remarkable day in Ann Arbor, a nation celebrated. In churches, department stores, and coffee shops people wept openly with relief. President Eisenhower invited Dr. Salk to the White House where, in a trembling voice, he thanked the young researcher for saving children everywhere.