Directory Calendar News Careers Alumni Giving

Salk Legacy

Jonas Salk: Ending Polio’s Reign of Terror

At its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, polio was killing or paralyzing more than a half-million people worldwide each year, especially children and young adults. The “lucky” survived to walk on crutches. Others were so paralyzed they could no longer breathe on their own. Iron lungs, the mechanical ventilators that sustained them, symbolized polio’s reign of terror.

In 1947, the University of Pittsburgh recruited Jonas Salk—an expert in influenza whose flu vaccine is still in use today—to develop a virus program at Pitt. For more than seven years, his team worked tirelessly to develop an effective killed-virus vaccine.  

The efforts of Pitt's polio research team culminated in the largest national controlled field trial in history. At the trial’s successful conclusion, the federal government approved the vaccine for the public on April 12, 1955, an action that Newsweek called “a summit moment in history.”

from:: Pitt’s Historic Impact

In addition to his pioneering research with vaccines, Salk also studied and wrote about humanity’s role in the evolutionary scheme.

Pitt's Iron Lung

ironLungsWard_AP

In the same year that Salk began work on a polio vaccine, the new University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health was established in response to the needs of industrial Pittsburgh. The first class of thirty-four students matriculated in 1950, studying in temporary quarters in a wing of the Pittsburgh Municipal Hospital—the same building as Salk’s laboratory. Once Salk's vaccine was shown to be protective against polio and cases in the U.S.A. plummeted, iron lungs became historical relics. 

Just inside the doors from Fifth Avenue, our iron lung is a generous gift from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Located in La Jolla, California, and widely considered one of the top biological research centers in the world, the institute was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk. The iron lung stands as a symbol of the countless lives saved by public health initiatives like vaccination programs. And vaccines are just the beginning. Things like motor vehicle safety laws, tobacco use restrictions, family planning resources, and clean air and water standards keep people alive. Our students, alumni, and faculty are part of these life-saving initiatives each day. 

Jonas Salk

The Annual Salk Symposia at Pitt Public Health

Pitt Public Health hosts an annual symposium in Jonas Salk’s honor. Topics are chosen from among his varied interests based on continuing importance to public health today.
image

Celebrate 70: The Salk legacy (video) 

Celebrate 70: The Salk legacy (video)

“[Jonas Salk] had no idea what was going to come out of this experiment. He was just terrified that it wasn’t going to turn out to work, but it did,” said Peter Salk of his father's early tests of the first polio vaccines. Jonas Salk developed the first successful polio vaccine while working at Pit... (04/18/2018)
image

Iron lung used to treat polio patients displayed at Pitt Public Health 

Iron lung used to treat polio patients displayed at Pitt Public Health

PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW - An iron lung machine will be on display at Pitt Public Health to honor polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine in 1955. The vaccine, tested in Pittsburgh school children, is considered one of medicine's most significant medical breakthroughs. “It's a ... (04/11/2018)
image

Pitt's 'new' iron lung is the symbol of the Salk achievement there 

Pitt's 'new' iron lung is the symbol of the Salk achievement there

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE - The tubular yellow artifact placed on display in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health lobby Tuesday was an unfamiliar oddity to the many millennials walking by it, but 73-year-old Jael Greenleaf of Squirrel Hill knows it well. “I am claustrophobic ... (04/11/2018)
image

Discussing the legacy of polio, one of the most dreaded disease in history (VIDEO) 

Discussing the legacy of polio, one of the most dreaded disease in history (VIDEO)

KD/PG SUNDAY EDITION - KDKA’s Stacy Smith and the Post-Gazette’s Jerry Micco discuss present-day challenges in the worldwide fight to eradicate polio with PETER SALK, visiting professor  in IDM, as well as his childhood growing up in Pittsburgh while his father's team developed the first injectable... (09/20/2017)
image

Pitt band at 1956 Sugar Bowl honors Jonas Salk 

Pitt band at 1956 Sugar Bowl honors Jonas Salk

During the 1956 Sugar Bowl halftime, the Pitt marching band spelled out SALK to honor the polio vaccine work of Pitt researcher Jonas Salk. The efforts of his research team culminated in the largest national controlled field trial in history, resulting in the vaccine’approval for the public on April... (09/06/2017)
image

Salk's polio vaccine is biggest scientific discovery in Pennsylvania history 

Salk's polio vaccine is biggest scientific discovery in Pennsylvania history

SCIENCE ALERT - From the invention of the steam-powered boat engine to the sequencing of the human genome, each state can claim its own scientific advancements. Pennsylvania claims Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, invented while working at the University of Pittsburgh. The vaccine is now used worldwide, ... (07/08/2017)


View more Pittsburgh stories

© 2018 by University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

Login  |  Sitemap