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 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.]


Posted by Karie Youngdahl

Hi, Cassandra, were you part of the 1954 trial? If so, and you received the placebo, you would have been given the real vaccine after the observation period and the data were unblinded. If not, the vaccine was available only to the general public beginning in mid- to late 1955.

Posted by James Willow (not verified)

I was going to PS 57 in the Bronx when I received my shot,I think it was in 53 or 54

Posted by Dan Bell (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer in Kimball, West Virginia.  I think it was my whole 3rd grade class in 1953.

Posted by Marie Wilbur (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer in Britton, Michigan.  I remember being taken on a bus full of kids to another town three times for inoculation.  Unfortunately, I was one of those who was in the control group and not given shots of actual vaccine.  I was not happy to be later taken 3 more times for shots of the actual vaccine once it was proven effective.

Posted by Gail (not verified)

I still have both the card and pin I received for being a Polio Pioneer as a 2nd grade student at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Royal Oak, Michigan.  The card and pin are among my most prized possession.  Jonas Salk has always been my #1 hero.

Posted by Cheri Johnston (not verified)

Late to the party! Just coming across this in November, 2017. 

I'm a Polio Pioneer, although I didn't know we had a name--or a pin! I participated in third grade while at John H Reagan Elementary in Dallas, Texas. Wish I knew what my parents were thinking regarding my being in the field trial, but everyone was scared of polio in those years. I have a vague memory of being transported to another school to receive the vaccine or placebo (no idea which). I remember feeling special, and on one of the 3 occasions, evidently I passed out. I just remember the ammonia being held under my nose to bring me around.

What an amazing story of quick research, results, and volunteer efforts---as I understand it, the largest peace-time volunteer effort in American history, with more than 300,000 medical personnel and others.



Posted by Phillip Franks (not verified)

I am a polio pioneer, was given the real thing. I have my card somewhere.

Posted by Merle Blair (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer in 1954.  I was in the second grade at St James Catholic School in Falls Church, VA.  I remember someone coming into my class & asking for volunteers to participate in testing of the Salk vaccine.  I raised my hand; I guess that was the beginning of my volunteerism.  I, also, remember having to go to the Joseph Willard Health Center in Fairfax, VA periodically for blood tests as part of the program. (I was not happy about that!) Sometimes I can't believe that this child that was terrified of needles participated in this program, but I'm so proud of the fact that I did & I received the vaccine not the placebo.  I remember getting a Polio Pioneer card.  Sadly, I don't think that kind of testing would be allowed in today's world.

Posted by Tom Moritz (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer at Post Road Elementary School in White Plains, NY

i received the real vaccine...

And I’d like to add that in my professional career — I am now a college professor — I have often  cited the comment made by Jonas Salk in response to a question from Edward R Murrow  asking if he intended to patent the polio vaccine ?

 Salk said: “ ...that would be like patenting the sun.” (A deeply profound comment that reflects on today’s practices of medicine and commercial pharmaceuticals.)

Posted by B bade (not verified)

I am a polio pioneer. I received the shots in 1954 at ho ho kus public school in ho ho kus, n j.  I have my card. 

Oddly my husband who also received the shots on Long Island, n y. While in third grade in 1954, contracted polio that same year. Doctors said bc of the shots he contracted a milder form. He was in a wheel chair for three months at st Charles hospital n y.  No iron lung but other issues. Today he is fine but one leg is a bit shorter than other. No limp. No impairments. Did Ironman kona and other triathlons today. 

Posted by Kathleen Goodwin (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer at Mary Phillips School in Mishawaka, Indiana.  I have my card and I did receive the vaccine.  I remember receiving my vaccine in school and stood in line.  I was 7 years old.  My parents were so afraid of polio.  We had an acquaintance who had polio and I remember pictures of the iron lung.  I was the only one in school.. I do not know how long after my vaccine it was approved for everyone.

Posted by Patricia Hunt … (not verified)

i was a Polio Pioneer in Bethel Ct, Center School.  I was 8 at the time and received my vaccination on June 7, 1954.  My mom (a Pioneer spirit for sure) signed me up.  All I really remember is being scared and a girl in line ahead of me screaming, my mom had a Pioneer spirit not me.  I got my shot and al was well.  I still have the card they gave me.

Posted by bill fischer (not verified)

I was also one of the boys to get injected at school in Oakland, NJ as a polio pioneer. About a year later I was diagnosed with symptoms of polio when I was too weak to even walk---seems to have lasted for 2-3 weeks. I remember that afterwards that I could not touch my toes in PE class and still cant.

Posted by Andrea Tucker (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer at L.H.Coffin School in Marblehead, MA in the second grade in 1954.  I still have my card

Posted by Rachel (not verified)

I hope the HOV don't mind me jumping onto this thread, I am writing a story for a children's magazine about Salk's vaccine for polio. I was hoping to contact someone who was a Polio Pioneer in 1954 and heard the announcement made in 1955 that the trials had been successful.

If don't mind me asking you a few questions about your experience then please contact me at strgazr23@hotmail.com

Warm regards,



Posted by John Zaffino (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer, part of the test group that got the first Salk vaccine. We were very prou to have participated. I remember how frightening it was to see pictures of children in an iron lung

Posted by Sheena cameron (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer in Quincy Ma. Have my card. Now have post polio syndrome.

Posted by Jerome Messier (not verified)

I was a polio pioneer in first or second grade. Received the sugar cube vaccine. Woodland School, East Hartford, Ct

Posted by John (not verified)

I was a Polio Pioneer in Cedar Rapids Iowa. I must have been in the third grade. My class went downtown to the KCRG TV studio and got our shots on live TV. I turned out that I got the placebo. I cried and was a little angry. I know three boys who caught polio, were crippled but survived.

Posted by Paul Kreft (not verified)

I am a pioneer...lost my card in moves a long time ago...We lived in Massapequa, LI at the time. I think it was either Fairfield Elementary or maybe Raymond J. Lockhart Elementary. Sorry I am not more specific. After we moved to Cincinnati in 1958, I got the Sabin sugar cubes. I had a Cincinnati friend who had contracted polio before the Salk and Sabin...I feel very fortunate.

Posted by marion hoffman… (not verified)

In the auditorium of PS 14 in The Bronx, NY, I sat and walked up frightened the nurses and doctor (i think they were). I received a sugar cube that tasted bitter. How could this be if not until 1961 oral polio vaccine commercially available??? I contracted polio that summer. Due to no iron lungs being availablein the vicinity, my smart pharmacist instructed my family to keep wrapping me in hot wet towels and enclose in plastic. He as well as mother and sisters continued doing this for weeks. My pharmacist gave me a teddy bear I named Winnie the Pooh. I, thankfully have no known resulting harm. I swim as I do know never been able blow up a balloon. Was I given an experimental oral vaccine or placebo?

Please, if you can, help me know what happened.