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June 23: Jonas Salk

June 22, 2015

MTIwNjA4NjMzOTY0MjM0MjUyThe great medical researcher Jonas Salk, whose development of the first effective vaccine against polio brought about the end of one of the most terrifying diseases in the U.S., died at the age of 80 in La Jolla, California on this date in 1995. Salk grew up in the Jewish immigrant milieu of New York, attended City College and NYU Medical School, and sought to become a medical researcher rather than a doctor “to be of some help to humankind, so to speak, in a larger sense than just on a one-to-one basis,” he said. Jewish quotas at various medical facilities obstructed his ascent as a researcher, however, until the University of Pittsburgh established a lab for him in 1947, and then the decade-old National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis invited him to join their research team the following year. By 1954, Salk’s vaccine was being tested on two million people across the U.S.; more people knew about the testing, according to a contemporary report, than could name the President of the U.S. When Salk’s vaccine proved to be nearly 90 percent effective, he became an international celebrity overnight. He did not seek a patent, considering the vaccine to be part of humanity’s shared endowment, like the power of the sun, he said. Within half a century, polio would be eliminated from the industrial world and nearly eliminated in most of the rest of the world. To see him talking about being “a good ancestor,” look below.

““Are we being good ancestors?” —Jonas Salk