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 (113)Posted in:


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.

I was in the 2nd grade at North Warren High School , in Smiths Grove, Ky in 1954. I had the vaccine. It was about 24 hours later that I started screaming that I couldnt move. Dr Helm was the town doctor and he came to the house and sit up with me all nite. I don't remember how long it lasted, but I got over it. I recently had a Shingles shot and had a very severe reaction. Maybe my immune system just doesn't like any live virsus put in my blood stream.

Just saw Dr Salk's 100th b/d today and had to write.
To answer Wanda Douglas comment about the scar, I think you are talking about the Smallpox Vaccine which was discontinued about 1972.
I too was a polio pioneer in Corpus Christi, TXin 1953-1954 School year. LAter the polio vaccine was given orally on sugar cubes, that was the Sabin Live attenuated virus, which was discontinued and the IPV (Salk) is now being given again. Probably because the live virus was excreted in stool, polio being an Enterovirus and susceptible persons, namely AIDS patients were also becoming infected with polio. Also the vaccine had to be frozen until administered, and storage became a problem especially in 3rd world countries, not to mention that at times the frozen vaccines were left out on delivery docks and became weakened and when given would not give desired results.
Happy Birthday Dr Salk

I was in 2nd grade in Albuquerque, New Mexico when I was a Polio Pioneer. I still have the card, but not the pin. I'm sure my mother let me wear it and I lost is somewhere. What I remember most about the shot was being very proud that I hadn't cried. I had the shot with my classmates, but it was my pediatrician giving the shot and he was so good! I don't know if my parents ever knew if I got the vaccine or the placebo. If they did, they never told me. In any case, I knew it was a wonderful thing that was going to save lots of kids. I remember how scared we all were; we couldn't go to the swimming pool or the movies because we might get polio. Thank God for Jonas Salk and the brave people he worked with and for all the parents who were willing to take the chance. As a mom and now a grandmother, I'm not sure I could have done it.

I was born in Chicago in July of 1947. I was in first grade in the 1953-54 school year, during which I was six years old, and in second grade in the 1953-54 school year, during which I was seven years old. I lived then in Skokie, Illinois, and went to Lincoln School ("Lower Lincoln," as grades K-6 were called; "Upper Lincoln" was 7th and 8th grades, in the same building).

I think I was a participant in the field trials - I have a memory of vaccinations in the school Multipurpose Room - but I wonder if the information still exists to confirm this. Can you tell me if an actual schedule of participating schools exists? Or were the field trials only carried out in individual physicians' offices, and my memories are of a different vaccination entirely?

Since my career has been in public health (MPH '75, University of Michigan School of Public Health) it would be particularly interesting to me to know if I participated in the field trials. Thanks for any guidance.

-- Steve Gold

I was a Polio Pioneer. I was in second grade at Grant elementary school in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. I don't remember much more about the day other than standing in line with other classmates and rolling up my sleeve. I did receive a pin, but do not recall a card.

My mother was told several years later that I had been inoculated with the placebo, or sterile water. I was in 1st Grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Scotia New York when I received my polio-pioneer pin in 1954.

I am a Polio Pioneer. I was in 3rd grade at Boyd School, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My mother treasured that card, but I don't think there was a pin. I later also had the Sabin vaccine on one Sunday when my entire town (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin) lined up at the elementary school for the sugar cubes.

I still have my polio pioneer card and pin. I was a student at the Scarborough Country Day School, Scarborough, NY. I was notified that I had received the real vaccine. I am 68 years old and have never had a major health issue.

My class, first or 2nd grade, 1954? was "Polio Pioneers" at St Joseph grade school in Yakima, WA. We got shots. I believe half the class got placebo, half got the actual vaccine. our parents were told after the study, so that those who got placebo could get actual vaccine once it was released. One boy in our class got the placebo, and did contract polio and died that year. It was still fairly common in those days. I remember films of people in "iron longs." It was a frightening disease. When the oral vaccine came out when I wass in high school, we got that too. It was adminstered as drops on a sugar cube. We had to get a seconf dose later. As for a Polio Pioneer card, I don't remember that, but we we given a pin which I held onto for years, don't know what ever became of it.

I remember being in first grade at Blessed Sacrament School and getting in line to get the first polio shot, I had the card that said polio pioneer. I never realized before that time that there was a threat of getting that dreaded virus.

I am a Polio Pioneer taking part in the first tests in Calgary, Alberta. I did recieve a Polio Pioneer card and still have it, if I can find it. My sister Betty was also a Polio Pioneer.
The grade six students were given a test vaccine which was a double blind test. I will try to locate the card so you may be able to get a photo of it. Please be patient as I have recently moved can't lay my hands on it at this time.

One of my sons was a part of the Salk Vaccine Field Trial in 1954
at the Levittown School in N.Y. His father had already become a
victim of that dread disease in 1953. At that time I and my four children received the Gamma Globin shot. When the Field Test was available, my second-grade boy received the vaccine (we found that out in 1955 when the results were revealed). My daughter was 11 years old so she was not part of the trial. My other 2 sons were pre-schoolers...All of us had symptoms of Polio in 1953 but did not actually come down with it...except the second-grader who never got any symptoms at all...(although he was always inclined to "catch" anything that was "going around")...His father was a polio resperator patient for 20 years (paralyzed from the waist up)spent a year in the iron lung and the other 19 with various types of breathing apparatus as new ones were invented along the way)and slept in a "Rocking Bed" ....but could not walk, because he couln't breath. He died of pneumonia in 1973. Thank God for
the vaccine which has save millions of people from that terrible

Thank you for your moving comment, Mrs. Murway. Best wishes to you and your family.

I was 6 years old and in the 1st grade in a small town outside of Austin, Texas. The teacher didn't give an explanation, she just told us to line up and follow her. We stood in a long line outside of a building. Everything seemed ok until a few kids came out crying, then we started getting scared. But the actual shot didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. I sometimes look at the scar on my left arm from the polio vaccination and remember a bunch of scared kids that did not want to go through that door where the nurses were waiting./ My mom did have to take me see a doc after the vaccination because I came down with a thrush infection in my mouth. The doc looked at my vaccination wound and said it was healing nicely but told my mom not to let me put anything in my mouth. I still don't understand it but I was told by the doctor to lay in the sun on a blanket with only a pair of panties on, for at least an hour everyday until it was cleared up. My mom also had to wipe my mouth out with something that was a blue liquid. So not only did I have a vaccination shot but an infection afterwards too. So, I had a new scar and infection, back to back of each other.

I remember standing in line with my classmates,. I think I was outside-but can't be sure. I was in 3rd grade at McMorrow school in Richmond Heights, MO when I received my polio shot. I remember the word "pioneer" was used, but I don't remember a card. I do remember I had made a little friend in Kindergarten , Joey. It was too late for him. He had had polio and wore leg braces and walked with crutches. I was born June, 1947.

I received my shots in 3rd grade at Washington Avenue elementary school in Chatham NJ and later received a Polio Pioneer card dated February 11, 1955, which I still have. I had an aversion to large needles (and to a smaller child, these needles were gargantuan!), so shortly after being stuck in the arm I fainted in the school hallway, hitting my head on the ceramic tile wall behind me. When I came to in the nurse's office, I was sent home for the rest of the day with a nice-sized goose-egg, so it was a successful day in not having to return to class! I must have had the placebo because my father made me and my two sisters take the Type II oral polio vaccine on November 4, 1962 when I was 16. The aversion to needles persists to this day.


I received both the shot and the sugar cube. My parents five years earlier lost a son to polio. So we were very much encouraged to take what vaccine they gave us. It was in Oklahoma. The first shot was taken at the county health clinic. The sugar cube was taken at school. I don't know if it has anything to do with it but I have Hashimoto's and hypothyroid disease. I don't know if I was given the real thing or the placebo.

I was a polio pioneer in Cornwall, N.Y. at was then known as Cornwall High School (K-12). I remember getting, I believe, a series of three injections. Kids waited in a long line and many were crying as they didn't want to get a "shot". As it turned out, all was for naught as we were in the placebo group and had to return for the real thing after the results were announced. Polio was such a feared disease, parents were eager to have their children in the program to avoid having their children get this horrible disease. I did received a card, and its stored with other keepsakes of my youth.

I was a Polio Pioneer at Algonac elementary school, Algonac, MI. I was in the second grade. We received our dosage orally, by serum-soaked sugar cubes. I don't recall if I received the real thing or not, but do know I was immunized against polio at some point. I have my Polio Pioneer card and Polio Pioneer button, pictures of which I have e-mailed to host site.

I was in second grade at PS #3 in Yonkers when they gave out the polio vaccine as a trial. The gymnasium was set up like a hospital with screens, nurses, and the smell of alcohol permeating the room. Some kids never had a shot before. I had, so I wasn't too scared. The nurse held your head and turned it away from looking at the needle. I received the real vaccine, my cousin had the water placebo. I still have my button and card.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.