1950s: Preview of Featured Object

Today we have a preview of an object that will be featured in the upcoming exhibit, 1950s: Building the American Dream.

Volunteers working in a school kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio, diluting polio vaccines with distilled water in preparation for distribution; courtesy of the Rose Melnick Medical Museum, Youngstown State University; accessible online via the Ohio Memory Project.

Volunteers working in a school kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio, diluting polio vaccines with distilled water in preparation for distribution; courtesy of the Rose Melnick Medical Museum, Youngstown State University; accessible online via the Ohio Memory Project.


Polio was one of the most feared diseases of the mid-20th century. Highly contagious, it is transmitted through contaminated body fluids. The disease can lead to muscle weakness, permanent paralysis, and even death.

By the 1950s, the fear of polio led to closure of pools, playgrounds, and other public spaces in many communities. 1952 saw the highest number of cases ever reported in the United States, 57,628 cases. The need for a cure was becoming direr as more and more Americans fell ill to the disease each year. One Ohioan played a crucial role in the eradication of polio in the industrialized world.

A baby being given the Type II Sabin oral polio vaccine with a dropper as part of a 1962 Youngstown immunization program; courtesy of the Rose Melnick Medical Museum, Youngstown State University; accessible online via the Ohio Memory Project.

A baby being given the Type II Sabin oral polio vaccine with a dropper as part of a 1962 Youngstown immunization program; Rose Melnick Medical Museum, Youngstown State University; accessible online via the Ohio Memory Project.


Finally, in 1955, the first polio vaccine was introduced to the world, Dr. Jonas Salk’s killed virus vaccine. During this same period, Dr. Albert Sabin began testing the world’s first oral polio vaccine, an attenuated virus vaccine, while working at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Because Sabin’s vaccine was colorless and tasteless, it could be put into a sugar cube, dispensed by a dropper, or mixed with distilled water. Sabin first tested his oral vaccine at the Chillicothe Ohio Reformatory in 1954. After successful results, he was able to test the vaccine on 180,000 Cincinnati school children in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The results were so effective that Sabin was able to eradicate polio in Cincinnati within a few years.

Sabin Vaccine Box

Pamphlet distributed at "Sabin Sundays" that answered questions about the oral polio vaccine.

Pamphlet distributed at “Sabin Sundays” that answered questions about the oral polio vaccine.


This box (catalog number H 85978) once contained cups of Sabin’s oral vaccines. Known as “Sabin Sundays,” hundreds of thousands of these cups were given to Ohioans throughout the 1960s at local schools, churches, and community centers. Via the Ohio Memory Project you can view more photographs from the Melnick Medical Museum documenting these Sundays in Northeast Ohio that contributed to the eradication of polio in Ohio. The last case of polio in the United States was reported in 1993, the same year that Sabin died.

What effects do you think polio has on Ohioans today?

Emily Lang, History Curator

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This entry was posted in 1950s, Curators, Current News, Exhibits. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 1950s: Preview of Featured Object

  1. Robert Wolfe says:

    I think it gave some Ohioans cancers, a slow developing variety that really didn’t get the best of them until around 40yrs after they received the vaccine. Not all of them, depends on biochemical individuality, things like blood type, immune status, etc. Some got the cancers quicker. That’s what I think!

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