1954 Polio Pioneer

Were you a polio pioneer, or are you related to someone who was? We’re looking for people who participated in the groundbreaking trial for Jonas Salk’s killed-virus polio vaccine in 1954.

We’d love to talk with you about your experience. We’re also hoping to get photograph of a Polio Pioneer card, a card given to children for participating in the first national tests of a trial polio vaccine conducted during 1954. (For reference, see a photograph of a Polio Pioneer card on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s excellent web exhibit on the history of polio vaccine development.) Email us at vaccines@collegeofphysicians.org to let us know about your experiences as a Polio Pioneer. [Edit 3/8/2013: Thank you to so many of you who sent us pictures of your cards. Feel free to keep sending them if you wish, but we do have quite a few now.]

Comments (136)Posted in:


I was born in st.louis in 1951 i have been told i was the only surviver in the states of Illinois,Kansas and Misouri.I'am very interest in learning more and i'm curious if some of the things in my life had any thing to do with polio

I believe I may be one of the pioneers. I received the vaccine at Nicholson Elementary School in Nicholson, Pennsylvania. I remember I was in grade school and received the inoculation in the school gymnasium. It was a brand new thing and fear of the disease made parents willing to take the risk, I suppose. I would be interested to know if that school was a part of the program. I am in good health and had no side effects from the vaccine that I can recall except a mild fever.

I was a polio pioneer in 1954 at Mass Fields School Quincy Ma. I got sick afterwards, was taken to boston Childrens Hospital but they said nothing was wrong. I now have Multiple chemical Sensitivities and unusual immune responses. I have been semi disabled my whole life but not on disability and face old age with a $500 social security benefit. My brother was also in the trial. He is totally disabled and on disability.

In 1954 I was a fourth grade student at Allendale Public School in Allendale New Jersey when I became a polio pioneer. I don't remember ever getting a lollipop, ice cream or even a card, but I did get a Polio Pioneer Pin which I still have. However, I do remember that day as if it were yesterday as one class at a time was escorted into the home economics room by their teachers where Dr. Canning, the school's Doctor administered the vaccine. The school nurse was close by his side to assist the 'faint of heart'. I was unaware that there was a placebo so I am assuming I got the 'real deal' since I did not get a second shot.

Oh what a panic ran through our town when we learned that one faulty batch of vaccine caused a sudden outbreak of polio affecting about 200 kids. When my sister began running a low grade temperature (caused by a totally unrelated illness) our mother was sure she made the worse mistake of her life allowing us to receive the vaccine. In time a trust in the vaccine was established and when a oral vaccine was available the entire town turned out and gathered in the center of main street to get their sugar cubes.

In 1998 I had the distinct honor of meeting S Stewart Aiston, a former biochemist at Lederle Laboratories in Pearl River New York. When I learned he worked in the development of the Polio Vaccine with Dr. Jonas Salk I told him I that I was one of his "Guinea pigs"! We talked about how proud we were to have been a part of this moment in history.

I was a pioneer. In 1954 I was in the third grade at Bastian Elementary School in Houston Tx. I remember a large number of students lining up outside on the concrete all weather play slab during the school day and the shots being administered as the lines passed through the injection station. I do not remember the pins or certificates. It is unlikely they would have made it home with me if I received one. Like the others I remember a lot of angst from my parents every summer when polio season arrived. I am sure they gladly gave permission to participate in the trial. I do not remember receiving any more inoculations so I assume I received the vaccine. Several years later we all took the oral vaccine through another community mass vaccination drive.

I was in the 1st grade at Davy Crockett Elementary School in San Antonio, TX. in 1954. I recall bringing home a permission slip for my parents to sign allowing me to receive the polio vaccine. We were bused to a nearby high school, I believe, where we lined up in a gym. I do not recall receiving any button or proof, but if we did, my mother probably saved it for a while. I never saw it. Strangely enough, it was discovered when I was 9 yr. old, bedridden w/ Rheumatic Fever, that I had probably had polio. I was taken to a doctor, Dr. Day, at Baptist Memorial Hospital in San Antonio, Tx., and eventually had a "corrective" leg surgery on one of my legs which was a tad shorter than the other. I was one of the lucky ones.

I was at Rice Elementary School in Elkhart Indiana, when I got mine. As I recall it was three shots, and then a "Booster" shot. Both Pin and Certificate are long gone now, but I am still proud that I was a participant. I believe I was eight years old at the time. God bless Jonas Salk!

The more I think about it the less I remember! I was born Sept. 1947. I think it was at Toutle Lake School in Washington State about 3/4 grade that we were all lined up for our polio shot. I don't remember it being a trial but I was always a little oblivious. Ha Oddly, it was 4th grade that I too, like someone else who posted, came down with Rhuematic Fever and had to lie in bed for about six months. I took penicillin for 7 years after that! I always wondered if THAT was an experiment. My mother and most of her siblings (14 of them) came down with polio (her birthdate was 1909) as children, but only one brother suffered paralysis and that in one arm. Mother believed she had a deformity which led to difficulties in childbirth.

I am a Polio Pioneer and still have my card dated 6-54. I was 9 years old. I lived with my parents in a coal mining camp in Utah and I remember some of us got the vaccine and others didn't. Turns out I didn't get the real vaccine. My mother had Polio as a child and so she was very excited about the trial. I remember everyone was excited but I did not understand what it was about.

Syd Pauley

I lived in Edgewater NJ and attended George Washington Grammer School. I remember being a pioneer of the Salk Polio Vacine.I remberember getting a little white cup and lining up with the other kids outside in the play yard to get it. I also remember getting a card saying I was a Pioneer..I am now 69 years old.

Hello! I have a question that I hope will be answered promptly, as it is for an upcoming project.
My grandmother said she had the polio vaccine, but not with a shot. She is 73 years old. She says they scratched her with a sharp tool in a criss- cross formation just like what the small pox vaccination was described as and it left a visible dime to quarter sized scar. So is she just confusing that with the Small Pox or did they actually have a method like that to administer the Polio Vaccine? Thank you for taking your time to read this and helping me through any answers you care to give. Again, Thank you so much!

Hi, Ansley, your grandmother is probably remembering the smallpox vaccine. The inactivated polio vaccine was and is given as an intramuscular injection. It would not have left a scar.
Karie Youngdahl

This I am sharing on behalf of my friend,Nick Rautenbach.
He was diagnosed,in 1945,aged +- 3 1/2 with polio affecting the entire left side of his body,head to toes.
He was given less than a week to live.
Doctor Verkuil,of the Roodepoort Discovery Hospital,close to Johannesburg in South Africa,in desperation,asked to experiment with Nick,so Dr.Verkuil must have been somewhere in the frontline of the scientists looking for clues to causes and cures/treatment.In 1945 it was thought that the illness was caused by flies or contaminated water.

This tiny little tyke remembers then how terrified he was as he was placed in an iron lung from which he was not to emerge until he was about 7 years old.Most of the earlier treatment he was told of by his mother.
Nick's buddy,of the same age,living next door,got polio of the leg and ore a leg brace for the rest of his life.

Nick,himself emerged from the hospital all but cured,regarded as miraculous at the time and probably was.
However,at face value he seemed to have totally recovered but was left with a few odd defects;

1.He has never been able to write,there appeared to be a co-ordination problem.Strangely,he is today a qualified dental technician,a gifted graphic artist.Incidentally all his school exams were verbally conducted,successfully.
2.He was never able to run after his recovery,but,today,at 73,he is still a keen surfer and fisherman.
3.He has mild,hardly noticeable,left facial and throat paralysis resulting in him having to eat very slowly and further,he swallows his tongue,causing suffocation.Water dripped down the throat,asap,has,so far resolved the issue.

Other than the above,he is an active and very healthy man.

The purpose of this e-mail is to conduct research,specifically in the South African context,but not exclusively.Another idea is to share Nicks'good fortune and find other parties who had good cures,in the 1940.
For what it is worth,Polio research was privately sponsored,the SA government only getting involved in the late 40's.

Nick was issued with a certificate;
Johannesburg 1949,stating that his name;N.A.Rautenbach had appeared in the "Poliomyelitis Research Foundation".

We are keen to find out the following;
a.Was there a worldwide co-ordinated effort in research and what role did South Africans play ?
b.How did the doctors cure Nick ? What method/s ?
c.Was Nicks' recovery somewhat unique for the period.
d.Maybe survivors,from about this period,can shed some light on out enquiries.
e.What,if any information,is available on Dr.Verkuil - don't even know if the spelling/pronunciation of his name is correct - ?
Whatever,Dr.Verkuil must be regarded as a hero in the struggle against polio.For many years,after Nick was released from hospital,Dr.Verkuil visited him to monitor his health (I imagine).

Whatever the outcome of this exercise we hope this has some merit and that it will illicit some worthy response.
Thanking you,
Chris Knaggs
Durban,South Africa. 2015

In 2nd grade at Gillespie School in Greensboro NC in 1954, I entered the gym/auditorium on the day of the "Salk vaccine" with a sense of purpose. My parents and the parents of my cousins and of my other friends had been watching us carefully, calling us inside if they feared we were becoming overheated and warning us against extreme exertion. Somehow my mother had communicated to me that today would be important. I may have felt a bit of pride in being part of this group.
Later, when I thought back to how they had laid out pads and blankets on the floor and told us to lie quietly for thirty minutes to see if we were going to have a bad reaction, I marveled that we were being the "Guinea pigs".
I was given a little, solid metal pin with a bendable tab for clamping onto a pocket or lapel. It said, "Polio Pioneer". I think it was blue and may have measured ¾ inch across. I wish I knew where that is now.

In 2nd grade at Gillespie School in Greensboro NC in 1954, I entered the gym/auditorium on the day of the "Salk vaccine" with a sense of purpose. My parents and the parents of my cousins and of my other friends had been watching us carefully, calling us inside if they feared we were becoming overheated and warning us against extreme exertion. Somehow my mother had communicated to me that today would be important. I may have felt a bit of pride in being part of this group.
Later, when I thought back to how they had laid out pads and blankets on the floor and told us to lie quietly for thirty minutes to see if we were going to have a bad reaction, I marveled that we were being the "Guinea pigs".
I was given a little, solid metal pin with a bendable tab for clamping onto a pocket or lapel. It said, "Polio Pioneer". I think it was blue and may have measured ¾ inch across. I wish I knew where that is now.

My sister in law and I had been stricken with polio in the year of 1956 in Passaic New Jersey

I was a Polio Pioneer at Cassidy Elementary School in Lexington, KY, and received the little pin so many fondly remember, though I have no memory of receiving a card. My classmates and I were lined up alphabetically by our last names, and I envied those whose names fell near the end of the alphabet (mine was near the front of the alphabet, and I did not appreciate the concept of getting it over with fast).

The shots were given by a nurse, and I seem to recall that the same needle was used for all of us, with it being cleaned with alcohol between shots. It must have been quite dull after being used on over 30 children (big class size; baby boom era).

This site and the various comments have clarified something for me: several months or perhaps even a year later, my mother told me that it had been discovered that there was something wrong with the original three experimental polio shots: they weren't strong enough, and I would have to have the shots all over again, this time at the office of my pediatrician, the much-loved and highly respected Dr. Robert Warfield.

I didn't like that idea at all, and wound up being bribed into repeating the shots - which added up to a total of six shots - all over again though the promise of a surprise each time afterwards, which turned out to be inexpensive toy. One was a toy rabbit which hopped realistically after being wound up - I think I still have it somewhere. Evidently I must have been given the actual polio shots near Easter, probably in 1955. I don't recall what time of the year the original Polio Pioneer project took place. I suppose the selection of children to receive the placebo was done randomly - I was the youngest child in my class, with a late December birthday, although I would have been in third grade that year.

About a year later, just prior to starting fourth grade, I became very ill while visiting my grandmother in rural Virginia - fever 105, day and night for a week, chills, faintness ( I actually did faint at one point), respiratory infection, aches and pains, digestive disorders - and the doctor, who came twice a day, told my parents it might be non-paralytic polio. He ran every test he could and gave me shots of penicillin daily. But a solid diagnosis was never confirmed. I still wonder...I did recover, but it lasted three weeks and left me five pounds lighter and oddly, only wanting to drink milk and eat French bread as I began to recover. Craving carbohydrates, for some reason...

Then a couple of years later, I received the sugar cube(s?), again from Dr. Warfield and a vast improvement in my view. No toy bunnies accompanied this form of inoculation, though!

Thanks for helping me realize that I must have received the placebo initially. Somehow, it never occurred to me previously...

My parents were very anxious to enroll my sister and me in this program. Dad's uncle and aunt spent a good portion of their childhood in side-by-side iron lungs. When the family visited them, I would feel so sorry about their leg braces and wheelchairs. His uncle died fairly young, but Aunt M. lived a long life, never letting her disability prevent her from completing college and becoming a librarian. I admired her very much, but I certainly did not want to suffer her plight. Through this perspective, the shot didn't hurt a bit.

We attended Newfield Elementary in Stamford, CT. I was eight, and my sister was six. I remember being lined up in the hallway for the shot. We were also given the sugar cubes, probably the next year. There was a joyous celebration when we got our Polio Pioneer pins.

I don't mean to come off rude in any way but it bothers me to no end to see this blof of comments. I guess being a polio victim doesn't make me special in Amy way as you lucky polio card holders. I wore braces as a child and now have post-polio Symdrome which has no cure other and is constantly confused with fibromyalgia. I was given so many pain pills as a child that all they do now is cause severe constipation. I was born May 12, 1954. Sorry for the interruption

I had both the shot and the sugar cube at Faxon Elementary School, in Kansas City, Missouri. I remember how proud my mother was that I was a "Polio Pioneer". I had both the card and the pin. I think it was in 1954 when I received them, and not certain of the year, or if they were given the same year. I remember as a child, I complained a great deal about my legs hurting, and my mother was concerned that I had polio because of the leg pains. I don't know if I had leg pain before or after the shot.

As an adult, I have had leg and body pain for many years. After being tested for MS and then being told I have Fibromyalgia, I have learned to just deal with the pain and weakness I have. I recently had a hip replacement, and I am pain free in the area of the implant, however, I have a huge amount of muscle loss and pain in my legs due to my inability to be active prior to and after the replacement. I'm now in physical therapy to help build up my leg muscles which are extremely weak. Whether this is related to the polio vaccine or not, I truly don't know. I have often wondered throughout the years if I have post polio syndrome due to the significant muscle loss I have.

I was 6 years old and in the first grade at Osage Elementary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Seems like some old kids (sixth graders) who worked in the office came and got me and the others and took us to the cafeteria for our shots. Guess we were like puppies going to the vet for the first time as we didn't know or care where we were going. However, soon we were aware of the situation and our different personalities kicked in. Most of us just stood there in silence, but I do remember the girl in front of me crying and fighting the nurses and the needle breaking off in her arm. It was a big deal and the nurses kept yelling at her to hold still so it wouldn't happen again. On the inside I was crying and fighting twice as hard as the girl, but my six year old macho wouldn't allow me to do anything except stand still and follow orders. As I remember it, at intervals of like 2-3 weeks, we received two more shots. Question to you other Polio Pioneers out there: I remember blood being drawn from us a couple of weeks following the shots. Does anyone else remember that? I received a card and a pin, but like most of us, it's long gone now.

I was a polio pioneer at Forest Glen School in Glen Ellyn, IL. I don't have a pin or card, just my memories that I got the real shot. There was a boy in my class that had polio before the field test and he came back to school without adverse effects. We were all very brave and thinking of him even though the shot was painful.

I was a Polio Pioneer and received the series of shots and the pin when I was 8 years old at Dryden Elementary School in Westbury, Long Island, New York in 1954. Prior to the development of the vaccine my parents took me and my two brothers to Michigan in the summers to get us away from the risk of polio that had attacked several children in our town, including one of my friends.

My two brothers and I received the actual vaccine and did not have to repeat the shots. However, we were thrilled to find out that the nearby bully, a boy who we feared and hated, got the placebo and had to go through all the shots again! Oh, the joy!

I am so thankful that my parents never hesitated when asked to have their children participate in the trial.

I recall the day at PS 8 Staten Island, NY because I was scared of getting the shot. I don't know if I received the placebo or not. Today, I live in Mission Viejo, Calif., not far from the Salk Institute in La Jolla. As this current debate over vaccines rages, I thank God for my mother's common sense and Dr. Salk.

I was one of the Polio Pioneer kids receiving the vaccine in 1953 or 1954 in Springfield, Missouri. We were taken by bus to the Shrine Mosque for the vaccine and later given ice cream. Shortly after the vaccine I became sick and couldn't walk. My parents were afraid I had contracted Polio but after seeing the doctor I was diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. I am so proud that my parents chose to let me be a part of the study. That was very brave on their part. We had a Polio cottage and a crippled children's wing in one of our hospitals. Polio was to be feared by many children and parents. Many adults my age
now have Post Polio Syndrome as a lasting result of contracting Polio.

I was a Polio Pioneer along with my entire class of second-graders in Port Edwards, Wisconsin, in 1954. We were bussed to the elementary school in the next town to get the shots. I don't remember getting a card, but I still have my pin. I dug it out this week after visiting Warm Springs, Georgia, where FDR and so many other polio patients were treated. Made me proud I had a small part in stopping so much suffering.

I was a polio pioneer in 1954. Second grade St Johns Catholic School in Monroe, Michigan. I had a card but it has disappeared over the years. In 1955, I discovered I was in the control group and had all the shots over again. I remember lining up in the cafeteria in alphabectical order. The boy in front of me fainted every time he saw the needle! After each shot we were given a big lollipop. The shots never bothered me at all.

People today may not realize how terrified we were of polio at that time. I remember forced naps in the summertime so we wouldn't get overtired and therefore more susceptable to the disease. We were not allowed to swim in public pools or even the lake.

I also remember my best friend's father (they lived across the street) coming down with polio the year before the vaccine. He spent many months in a iron lung and the rest of his life a quadriplegic. Three (or six) shots seemed like a good deal to me!

I received this from a writer who did not want her/his name used.

Not even sure if I got a pin or a certificate – it’s been so long I don’t remember. It was in elementary school in the 1950’s. I was in a group at Lincoln School in the west Rattlesnake Valley or possibly Prescott Elementary in town (where they moved us in about 5th grade). Lincoln, long closed, was a three-room Craftsman-style school with all 8 grades in three classrooms. It was learning heaven – when we finished our assignments in one grade, we could listen in on what the older kids were being taught. I think Prescott has closed too.

I wasn’t crazy about the idea of getting vaccinated but my mother was an RN who served in Europe in WWII. She had rotated through public health during her training and felt strongly, from seeing victims “up close and personal,” that the dangers of contracting polio were far greater than any dangers that might be associated with the vaccine.

I’m 68 now and have never suffered any ill effects. It hurt like any other shot but I don’t remember any problems.

One little girl would faint (she waited until we got back) to class but she always recovered promptly. Everyone thought she was just being a drama queen. I’d love to know if SHE had any lasting effects from the shots since she seemed like such a delicate little flower. We always thought it was an act but, in retrospect, maybe she had been a sickly child to begin with.

In any case, the current flap over vaccination just blows my mind. I’m here today and reasonably healthy in large part because I was vaccinated for everything from soup to nuts. Other kids weren’t so lucky. Jonas Salk was a saint in my humble opinion.

I was a Polio Pioneer when I was 7 years old at the Roosevelt School in Port Chester New York.

Can remember standing in line with all my classmates and receiving a Polio vaccination. For whatever reason I still have the "Polio Pioneer Certificate of Membership" received from The National Foundation For Infantile

Little did we know the effect this trial would have on the entire world.

I was a polio pioneer in 1954; I was in first grade at Johnson elementary school in Cedar Rapids, IA. I received a pin and card, I have neither now. I got the true vaccine first time round. because everyone got the vaccine i took for granted the singularity of being a test subject. i am glad my parents gave permission.

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