1953 Salk announces polio vaccine On March 26, 1953, American medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announces on a national radio show that he has successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus that causes the crippling disease of polio. In 1952–an epidemic year for polio–there were 58,000 new cases reported in the United States, and more than 3,000 died from the disease. For promising eventually to eradicate the disease, which is known as “infant paralysis” because it mainly affects children, Dr. Salk was celebrated as the great doctor-benefactor of his time. Polio, a disease that has affected humanity throughout recorded history, attacks the nervous system and can cause varying degrees of paralysis. Since the virus is easily transmitted, epidemics were commonplace in the first decades of the 20th century. The first major polio epidemic in the United States occurred in Vermont in the summer of 1894, and by the 20th century thousands were affected every year. In the first decades of the 20th century, treatments were limited to quarantines and the infamous “iron lung,” a metal coffin-like contraption that aided respiration. Although children, and especially infants, were among the worst affected, adults were also often afflicted, including future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1921 was stricken with polio at the age of 39 and was left partially paralyzed. Roosevelt later transformed his estate in Warm Springs, Georgia, into a recovery retreat for polio victims and was instrumental in raising funds for polio-related research and the treatment of polio patients. Salk, born in New York City in 1914, first conducted research on viruses in the 1930s when he was a medical student at New York University, and during World War II helped develop flu vaccines. In 1947, he became head of a research laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh and in 1948 was awarded a grant to study the polio virus and develop a possible vaccine. By 1950, he had an early version of his polio vaccine. Salk’s procedure, first attempted unsuccessfully by American Maurice Brodie in the 1930s, was to kill several strains of the virus and then inject the benign viruses into a healthy person’s bloodstream. The person’s immune system would then create antibodies designed to resist future exposure to poliomyelitis. Salk conducted the first human trials on former polio patients and on himself and his family, and by 1953 was ready to announce his findings. This occurred on the CBS national radio network on the evening of March 25 and two days later in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Salk became an immediate celebrity. In 1954, clinical trials using the Salk vaccine and a placebo began on nearly two million American schoolchildren. In April 1955, it was announced that the vaccine was effective and safe, and a nationwide inoculation campaign began. Shortly thereafter, tragedy struck in the Western and mid-Western United States, when more than 200,000 people were injected with a defective vaccine manufactured at Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, California. Thousands of polio cases were reported, 200 children were left paralyzed and 10 died. The incident delayed production of the vaccine, but new polio cases dropped to under 6,000 in 1957, the first year after the vaccine was widely available. In 1962, an oral vaccine developed by Polish-American researcher Albert Sabin became available, greatly facilitating distribution of the polio vaccine. Today, there are just a handful of polio cases in the United States every year, and most of these are “imported” by Americans from developing nations where polio is still a problem. Among other honors, Jonas Salk was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. He died in La Jolla, California, in 1995. 1804 Jefferson presented with a “mammoth loaf” of bread On this day in 1804, President Thomas Jefferson attends a public party at the Senate and leads a diverse crowd in consuming an enormous loaf of bread dubbed the mammoth loaf. The giant bread was baked to go with the remnants of an enormous block of cheese. Two years earlier, a group of Baptist women from Massachusetts had sent Jefferson a 1,200- pound hunk of cheese in gratitude for his support of religious tolerance. The cheese, they said, illustrated Jefferson’s claim that North America’s superior natural resources would one day enable the U.S. to outstrip all of Europe in agricultural production. Early Americans’ use of the descriptive term mammoth arose from the discovery of a giant woolly mammoth skeleton in New York in 1801. Jefferson, fascinated with the natural sciences, was a member of the American Philosophical Society and helped the organization raise funds to complete the archaeological project. Jefferson’s Federalist opponents ridiculed the president’s scientific side projects as frivolous. In an attempt to embarrass the president, they dubbed the giant dairy product the mammoth cheese. To the Federalists’ surprise and disappointment, the general populace embraced the term with nationalistic zeal. Almost immediately, butcher shops and markets advertised mammoth-size products from sides of veal to pumpkins and loaves of bread. The unveiling of the mammoth loaf occurred at a Senate-sponsored March 26 party to rally support for a naval war against the Barbary States. At noon, a Navy baker wheeled in the mammoth loaf along with the remnants of the Baptist women’s mammoth cheese, an equally enormous side of roast beef and copious amounts of alcohol. President Jefferson stepped up, pulled out his pocketknife and cut the first slice of bread. According to written observations, the party quickly degenerated into a noisy, drunken affair. 1832 The steamboat Yellowstone heads for Montana The mighty American Fur Company adopts the latest in transportation technology to its business, dispatching the company’s new steamboatYellowstone to pick up furs in Montana. A decade earlier, John Jacob Astor had formed the Western Department of his American Fur Company to begin exploiting the fur trade in the western reaches of the continent. In 1828, Astor established a large trading post called Fort Union at the strategically important point where the Yellowstone River merged with the Missouri. Located near what would later be the Montana-North Dakota state line, Fort Union allowed Astor to dominate the fur trade of the northern plains and Rockies. With ruthless efficiency, Astor’s American Fur Company steadily undercut and eliminated its competitors. The company had the financial resources to invest in competitive advantages that smaller companies like the Rocky Mountain Fur Company could not afford. Far from being a rustic backwoods operation, Astor’s company was one of the most modern and progressive corporations of its day. In 1830, Astor saw an opportunity to use a new technology to further consolidate his stranglehold over the western fur trade: the steamboat. The paddle-wheel steamboat New Orleans had begun regular service on the lower Mississippi only 18 years earlier. During the 1820s, steamboats occasionally ventured as far north on the Missouri as Council Bluffs. Now the American Fur Company boldly proposed to extend regular steam service all the way up to its Fort Union trading post at the mouth of the Yellowstone. The company hired a Louisville shipyard to build a boat specially designed for the treacherous currents of the Missouri. Christened The Yellowstone, it was a sturdy craft with a large cargo deck to carry furs and trade goods. It had a high wheelhouse from which the pilot could see to avoid the many snags and shoals of the Missouri. Departing from St. Louis on this day in 1832, The Yellowstone reached Fort Union in June, where the craft attracted the marveling admiration of Anglo traders and Indians alike. Thereafter, The Yellowstone and a fleet of similarly designed steamboats regularly traveled to Fort Union-when the water level was not too low or the rivers frozen. While the American Fur Company modernized with steamboats, its less affluent competitors continued to rely on small, man-powered keelboats to move their furs and trade goods. By the mid-1830s, boats like the Yellowstonehad helped Astor eliminate lesser fur companies and the American Fur Company enjoyed a virtual monopoly over the Far Western fur trade.