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 (97)Posted in:


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.

I was a Polio Pioneer in 1954. The test site was Shelby, OH. All of us participating in the research were excited...until the injection. I was in the placebo group so I was given the "real" inoculation after the test results were released. Like many others, I was given a Polio Pioneer card which I still have.

I took part in the Salk vaccine trial in Naperville, IL. (newspaper archives say that whole counties were chosen to participate - mine was DuPage: http://veridian.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinois?a=d&d=DIL19540406.2.54 ). I don't remember the "Polio Pioneer" title or getting a card or pin, but I remember we lined up in the school gym to get the injections, and I knew that it was a study to see whether the vaccine would work. I think most of us, and most parents, were happy (plus scared, at least I was) to be part of it - polio was so frightening, and we felt we were part of something important. I think I turned out to have gotten the placebo, but not sure after all this time.

I was a polio pioneer when I was 8 years old, at Gulfcrest Elementary School in Houston, Texas in 1954. I believe I still have the card, but the pin was stolen along with my jewelry in a burglary about 20 years ago. I was more upset about the loss of the pin than I was about the jewelry ! I don't remember finding out whether I had the actual vaccine or the placebo, but always assumed I had the vaccine as my older brother was striken with polio and I seemed to be protected from the disease. Some years later, I was also given the Sabin vaccine through a school in Decatur, Illinois and had a very strong reaction ( fever and couldn't move my neck for several weeks ). I recovered fully and have had no negative affects since then. I remember getting the vaccine well. After we went through the line to get the vaccine we were given a comic book and peppermint stick to enjoy while we sat in the hall for the rest of the class to finish.

Hello, Anonymous - thanks for the comment. If you were in the placebo group, you would have been given the vaccine after the observation period. That was the protocol in any case. I hope your older brother recovered quickly. Regards from the History of Vaccines staff.

I was a polio pioneer. I received a little metal button with polio pioneer on it. I still have the button. This was 1954.

My grade school class at Arthur McGill school in New Castle PA took part in the polio vaccine trial. We lined up in the hall and put out our arms to get the shot. I remember fainting after returning to my classroom.

I dont recall getting a card but we may have been given them.

I remember getting the shot in school and then going on the jungle gym. I think that stretching out my arm made it feel better. I do not have the card but I do still have my pin.

I think I was in second grade when I received the first vaccination which in fact was a placebo, so then I had to have the actual vaccination. I was sent home with a piece of paper for my parents to sign, and though I argued against it (fear of shots), I lost. I was in PS 104 in Bronx, NY. I was very fearful. We had to line up in the hallway before entering the dreaded vaccination room which smelled of alcohol. The kid in front of me threw up, so it was not a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, I have no paper work. I vaguely remember receiving a pin.

My Salk Vaccine story is an incredible one......one I have never heard from anyone else. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade at Joseph P. Stockton Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois in 1955 and 1956 respectively. In one of those years I ACCIDENTALLY was given two (2) shots of Salk Vaccine approx. 1 minute apart in the school auditorium. That night I had a raging fever at home and by the next morning paralysis began to set in. I was paralyzed from the waist down for approx. two weeks and then gradually relearned to walk and went back to school. I am now 65 and in a medical crisis situation in Houston Texas area and cannot find a doctor to treat all that is wrong......including a very severe case of Post Polio Syndrome that has been progressively getting worse each year. I am on medicare and desperately need someone to help me. There must be some information the authorities or medical community can get from studying the facts of my case and my horrible health consequences from those two shots given simultaneously......please respond at least with a name who I can contact. God Bless and thank you,
Linda P.

Dear Linda, I'm so sorry to hear about your health problems. You may already be familiar with the work of Post-Polio Health. If not, though, I would suggest getting in touch with them to find out about resources for polio survivors. Their website is http://www.post-polio.org/. They are in St. Louis and their phone is 314-534-0475. Though it doesn't look like it's been updated recently, they have a section on their website where they list current research studies that are enrolling participants. You may find an opportunity there. Best wishes for your improved health, from HistoryofVaccines.org

I was a polio pioneer in a parochial school in North Arlington New Jersey. I still have the pin and have vivid memories about the experience. Now that I have worked in medical research ethics for a number of years I look back on the design of the study and the "consent form" that our parents signed and know that it could never happen now. It gave them the "opportunity" to have their child participate. I don't recall any child in my class who did not participate. Our parents so feared the disease that they were happy to volunteer their children. Years later I met a woman who contracted polio and I am grateful to my parents.

I was a "Polio Pioneer". I received my shots at Greenacres School in Greenacres, Florida. I do not recall ever knowing if I received the placebo or not. But we did move shortly after I got the shots. We were still in the same area, but about 5 miles from Greenacres. Shortly after we moved I met a girl with polio- I was glad I had gotten my shots. I remember getting all of the subsequent immunizations, also. The last was the sugar cubes in about 1969, I think.

I was a Polio Pioneer and received my shots at Quarton Elementary School in Birmingham, Michigan. I received the real vaccine, a card and a pin. I still have the card and pin. My mother had had polio as a child. She walked with the help of braces and crutches so this breakthrough was really celebrated in our family. The success of the vaccine removed a lot of fear from all our lives and we were all so grateful to Dr. Salk for this amazing vaccine.

I was vaccinated in Syracuse, New York at Edward Smith School when I was in second grade. A girl in my class had died of polio. We were very aware of the dangers and rules: don't lick another child's popsicle, etc. My mother told me later that parents were not told whether their child got the real vaccine or the placebo (or whether the vaccine worked) until a year after we were vaccinated. I was one of the lucky ones who got the real vaccine. I was not especially bothered by shots, but a few years later we got what I think was the Sabin vaccine, which was on sugar cubes, and we were happy with that. I don't remember a card but I still have my Polio Pioneer button.

I was in 1st grade at Newhall "A" (now West Newhall) near Grand Rapids Michigan. Both my cousin and brother were pioneers also. They received the real shots, I received the placebo and had to have all the shots again the next year. My mother and aunt said they decided that if they believed in science, they should let us participate in this trial. I have sent an e-mail with a copy of my Polio Pioneer card attached, as well as the card showing the vaccine I had to get again the next year.

I was a Polio Pioneer at David W. Harlan School in Wilmington, DE. I was in 2nd grade and wore a new (dark green print) dress that day because we were going to be on the local news. I was unprepared for the blood tests that accompanied the shots for a random group and unfortunately, I was chosen - possibly the root of a life long needle phobia! Btw, there is a Polio Pioneer in Philadelphia's Mutter Museum.

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