1954 Polio Pioneer

March 23, 2010 Anonymous

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 [email protected] 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.]


Posted by Paula Brown Sinclair (not verified)

I am a Polio Pioneer. I believe my entire third grade class at Boyd Elementary in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was invited to participate. Dad still has my card and maybe the pin. I think my mother, who was very afraid of the possibility of getting polio, was not unlike other mothers at that time. My family welcomed my chance to participate and considered me a hero. I didn't appreciate the importance at the time, but realized it as time passed and Mother continued to talk about it with pride.

Posted by Anonymousbarbara (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer at Quaker Ridge School in Scarsdale, New York. I remember that my a parents were very proud that our community participated in these trials. Our neighboring school, Heathcote, a participated in the trials and was written up in Lefe magazine

On another note. I am a professor and am about to give a lecture about Henrietta Lacks. I have her HeLa cells in me!

Posted by mary ellen wei… (not verified)

I was a student at Greenville Elementary School in Scarsdale NY. I did not know that I got the real thing nor did my Dr  -- Dr Smith --know the his daughter got the real thing.  

Posted by Susan Carson Dooley (not verified)

I remember lining up in an office and getting shots at school in Glendale New York. We were told that we were polio pioneers. I do not remember if I had the placebo or the real vaccine. I was in second grade and went half day as schools were so crowded that there had to be 2 sessions.

Posted by Eileen Bauer (not verified)

I am a Polio Pioneer. My maiden name was Eileen Keegan. I attended Sacred Heart elementary school in Rochester, NY. My parents signed me up for the Francis Field Test because my mother was frightened that I would be infected with polio due to a mysterious illness I'd had as a toddler. I believe that I was six years old in 1st grade when I received the real vaccine. About a year later, I was awarded a Polio Pioneer card that stated that I'd received the actual vaccine. I wish I still had the card. I remember being so excited when I received the card from my school, and couldn't wait to show it to my mother. On the way home from school, I learned that my mother had gone to McCormick's meat market on Pullman Avenue so I rushed over there to tell her my good news. The floor of the meat market was covered in saw dust. I ran through the door and literally slid across the floor falling at her feet in my haste. Everyone was excited about my good news, but I was kind of embarrassed at making such an unsightly entrance.

Posted by Laura Messina (not verified)

I attended Bowling Green School Westbury,NY (East Meadow School District)I can remember th button which I had for a long time. I most vividly remember how I said My Mom didn't sign that I could have this. I was petrifired of needles !!! Well they did sign the paper, I did get the shot.. and remember lining up to get the shots. I don't remember if I got the real vaccine ot not.. I do remember my parents being told.. .
I met someone this past week that had polio as a child she is in her early 50's. It brought up such memories of those days when. I beleve I was in 2nd grade at the time.

Posted by Chris K (not verified)

I attended Wantagh Elementary School in Wantagh, NY. In the spring of 1954 I was 6 and in the second grade. (Back then the cutoff for kindergarten enrollment was Dec. 1 and I have a late birthday.)
I'm a polio pioneer. My parents had to sign a permission slip and I hoped they would, because I felt very important having the chance to be a pioneer. We lined up in the school cafeteria, its linoleum floor clean and shiny beneath us. Ahead were tables staffed with nurses and a doctor, all in white. As I got closer, I could see the kids ahead of me getting the shot. Some winced and grimaced, but the OUCHes were not well received and soon diminished.
I was ambivalent -- not sure whether I hoped to get the real shot (....which might give me polio???) or the placebo. Maybe this was a double blind where no one knew who got the real shot? I went home with a sore arm (gee, that needle looked big) but feeling proud that I had participated in a medical adventure -- *I* was a pioneer!

Posted by Rose Mary Jackson (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer at Turner Elementary School in Turner, Oregon. I remember we were taken (I think it was a doctor's office)off campus by bus and we were given a button that said polio pioneer on it. My Mother had the button for a long time, but I'm not sure if she still has it.

Posted by Charlotte King (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer in Salem Oregon, in 1953-54.
I attended Swegle Grade School We were given cards.
The shots were given alpabetically and my name started with a "B" so I was in the first group of the entire city to receive the vaccine.
We(all the grade schools) were bussed to Auburn,another local grade school in the area for the vaccines. I do not have my card, but I remember a card about the size of a 4x8 receipe card, it had a picture of Lassie in the center of the card and stated that the persons whose name was on the card,was a Polio Pioneer. I suppose that we were given the wallet cards and pins, but I do not recall. All I remember was the card with the picture of Lassie. Iknow the card was signed but can't recall who signed it. I may be wrong but it seems as if it was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I would be interested in knowing if any others remember that card.

Charlotte King 10/01/11

Posted by Ann (not verified)

I was also a polio pioneer in Racine, Wisconsin in the 3rd grade. I teach school and have told my students, especially when we talk about FDR.

Posted by Diana Putnam (Digel) (not verified)

I was just thinking about being a polio pioneer and decided to do a google to see what would come up. I am just not sure how young I was but I didn't get a shot....I got was given a cube of sugar that
supposedly contained the serum.

I have a daughter who is 41 who contracted Guillian Barre Syndrome when she was 14 years old. I
wonder if there is any correlation? (French strain of polio). She has 2 children but nothing out of the ordinary with either of them.

Most of the "ailments" that affect me seem to be neurological and involve the left side of my body.
I have had trigeminal neuralgia, have a hearing loss in both ears from nerve damage and pain in my
back and shoulders/left side.

This was back in Smethport, Pennsylvania and since I am 65 would imagine it would have been right around 1954.

I don't remember receiving any card but I do remember a pin...

Posted by Sallywi (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer still have signed document to prove.. Parker Heights, Wapato, Washington signed 6, 2, 1954

It was under the name of Sally P Wise and I was given I had the placebo. Many of the students on I had the placebo got Polio while this program was in effect.

Several of my best friends were crippled by Polio before I entered 1st grade, so we were all happy to see if we could stop this disease.

Sally Wise

Posted by Janice Mulder Shook (not verified)

I was a also a polio vacination volunteer. I received my shot at Glerum School in Holland Michigan. At the time we weren't told if it was a placbo or the real shot. Some years later I got a card indicating I had the real vacine. I'm not sure where the card is at or if I still have it. I'm 64 now, I got the shot I think around 3rd grade.

Posted by Margaret Johnson (not verified)

I am Polio Pioneer. I was a student at the Polk Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. I still have my Polio Pioneer card, all these years later. I remember standing in line for the shot. And I remember having to get another shot since I had received the placebo.

Posted by ed (not verified)

I am researching the moryality rate of children that participated in 1954 field trail test of salk vaccine. If you were a participate in the trail and know about the people today that were there with you, please let me know by posting info on here. thank you. ed

Posted by Julie (not verified)

My second grade class at a small parochial school were polio pioneers. We have a reunion this July and I will collect data from our classmates. As best I know we are all still alive and in relatively good health. Yes, I still have my pin and card. My mom preserved it along with many more boxes of stuff. js

Posted by Kuldip (not verified)

i am related to Polio pioneer. i think that she is very afraid about that

Posted by Claudia Hollywood (not verified)

My sister and I were polio pioneers. I was in first grade and my sister in the second. I received the "real" vaccine. My sister received the placebo. I remember she was upset because she had to receive a second "shot" to get the vaccine. I do have a card and pin.

Posted by Jeannette Mill… (not verified)

I am a Polio Pioneer. I received the vaccine at Highland Park Central Elementary School when I was in the second grade. I do have my card and pin. I recall we went across the street to the "auditorium/gym" and standing in line to receive the vaccine. Seems like I remember it as an "adventure" at the time!

Posted by Juliana Plant … (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer in 1954 and have the card which my mother kept in my school scrapbook. I remember that I didn’t like getting shots, but was brave and didn’t flinch! Also I was very glad to find out that we got the real thing, not the placebo, because that meant that I was already vaccinated and didn’t need more shots. My mother reinforced the idea that we should be very proud to be Polio Pioneers, but it was a little bit scary to me that we were being guinea pigs, actually injecting a virus into us, even though it was killed.

As I remember there was only one child in our grade school of 200 who came down with polio before the vaccine and he lived just down the street from me, so it was scary back then thinking it might happen to us next. We were all very glad that a vaccine was developed and we didn’t have to worry about getting polio.

It has been interesting reading other people’s comments. I am attaching my scanned document to the e-mail. I also have the pin, but not with me right now in my winter home.

Juliana Plant Sandahl, vaccinated in Multnomah County Oregon 1954

Green Valley, AZ

Posted by Corey Hewitt (not verified)

I was also a Polio Pioneer in the 2nd grade at Nathan Hale Elementary in Huntington, NY. I remember my parents having some heated conversations about my participation. We had the sugar cubes; not shots and I received the real vaccine.

Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer and still have my Polio Pioneer card. I received the shots in or around 1954, while attending EF Swinney grade school in Kansas City, Mo. I remember standing in line, awaiting the shot.

Posted by Sara Lawrence (not verified)

I was in first or 2nd grade,at Winthrop Avenue Elementary School in Bellmore NY in 1954. My father was the school Doctor and he had to administer the Polio Vaccines to all the children. It was a test where half the children received a Placebo and the other half got the salk polio vaccine. My father learned that i was to get the placebo, so he told me that during the day when we had to get the polio vaccine shots- there were three shots at different days- I would get the placebo. However at night he would take the real vaccine and bring it home - he took enough for me and my younger brother my mother and himself. We all were sworn to secrecy- However he said MY kids are not going to be guinea pigs. Even at a young age of 6 or 7 years I was scared but proud. My father was brave but even then there was a sense that the vaccine was important and he was not going to have his kids take a placebo and be vulnerable to the ravages of polio. Throughout the years until he died we had a difficult relationship but I must admit that even now I was proud that I was a true Polio Pioneer= even if it was a secret-

Posted by Tom Mitchell (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst, N.Y. Our entire second grade class participated. Somewhere among my personal memorabilia I still have the card and pin. I'll have to pull them out and show them to my children.

Posted by Tamara Earle Mastin (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer back in the 50s I lived in great bend ny I remember that they came in a bus and took us to Watertown and we had to give blood back then does anyone remember thatlots of kids use to cry I don't know if I had a card my mom never told me

Posted by Paul (not verified)

Is this Watertown, MA? I went to the Hosmer School and was a polio pioneer. I had a friend there who moved away in about 1953. Is there a list of the kids who were the test kids?

Posted by Rich (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer at St. Augustine Elementary School in Ocean City, New Jersey. I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time. I remember proudly wearing the metal badge or pin that we were given. There was a large bus or van that pulled up in front of the school where the vaccine was administered. I am now one of 30 Rotarians from North Carolina who will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in September to raise money to eradicate Polio as part of Rotary International's End Polio Now campaign.

Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer. I was in the second grade at Wide Hollow Elementary School in Yakima, WA. Being we moved from that area in Dec 1953 and I attended a different school, I believe I received my shot in 1953, or maybe even 1951.
I remember we were extremely proud to be part of the 'testing' that was hoped to end the polio epidemic. I remember seeing on TV ( which was very new in our area) children and adults in iron lungs. I remember conversations with my parents about how scarey and tragic that was.
I don't recall a card or a pin.

Sent from my iPhone

Posted by Rebecca Ferrill (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer and I have the card and a newspaper article to prove it

Posted by John C. Ratliff (not verified)

I do not remember the term "Polio Pioneer," but do remember being part of that group in grade school. The school was Washington Elementary School, in Salem, Oregon. I was at Washington Elementary School from about 1951 to 1957. I also remember that we received the vaccine in a sugar cube.

I was just reading Scientific American's article, "Birth of a Cold War Vaccine, which talked about Dr. Albert B. Sabin's vaccine and his collaboration with Mikail P. Chumakov in the Soviet Union to prove his vaccine. This article states the differences between the Salk and the Sabin vaccines, describing the Salk vaccine as a "killed" or inactivated vaccine while Sabin's vaccine was made up "...of a weakened, but still active poliovirus...Finally, unlike Salk's vaccine, which was injected, the Sabin vaccine could be administered in a bite-sized sugar cub or swallowed off a spoon..."

I have no more recollection than this.