Next time you plunge into a public swimming pool, take a moment to think of Jonas Salk, the man behind the polio vaccine. On this day in 1954, he launched the first mass inoculations against the much-feared virus. And, well, how many people do you know who ever had a polio scare?
The test drive took place in Pittsburgh, U.P. reported, starting with first, second and third graders at Arsenal Elementary. Kicking it all off was a third grader named Rosalie. (Though she wasn’t the first person ever vaccinated, of course—Salk had already administered the shot to hundreds of people, including his own family, just nothing en masse.) Parents had already signed off, but the specific day was kept quiet so the kids wouldn’t know in advance. “We want the children’s inoculation day to be normal,” Salk told the wire service. “We want them to get up at their normal time, eat their breakfast and go to school as on any other day.”
“One of the children inoculated recently had been released from a hospital after suffering one type of polio,” the paper notes. “She was given the vaccine in hope of preventing the other two types which are known to exist.”
The Pittsburgh Press—where the tests shared front-page space with the headline “ARMY CODE CLERK NAMED AS RED”—reported that volunteers were surprised as “No Fear Shown By Most Pupils.”
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