University of Texas professor publishes book on history of polio

April 11, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas—The just-released “Polio: An American Story,” written by Dr. David Oshinsky of The University of Texas at Austin, chronicles the story of polio, from the March of Dimes to the discovery of the Salk and Sabin vaccines to the present day struggle against polio in isolated parts of the globe.

The book draws on fresh information from dozens of newly opened and previously unused manuscript collections to produce some startling revelations.

“One of the surprises I found was that (Jonas) Salk came very close to having his career ruined, before he became famous, due to his earlier left-wing political beliefs,” said Oshinsky. “He almost had his security clearance denied in 1949 after a full field investigation by the FBI. Had this happened, the image-conscious March of Dimes would have dropped him and his work, jeopardizing development of the Salk vaccine.”

The book follows the dramatic race for the vaccine and the bitter rivalry among Salk, Albert Sabin and Hilary Koprowski and explores the full story of the Cutter vaccine fiasco of 1955, which killed and paralyzed dozens of children and led to landmark changes in the federal testing, supervision and licensing of new drugs and vaccines.

Oshinsky found that polio was not the raging epidemic portrayed by the media, but in truth a relatively uncommon disease. It was the baby-booming America of the 1950s—increasingly suburban, family-oriented and hygiene-obsessed—that made polio, like the specter of the atomic bomb, hang like a cloud of fear over daily life.

Oshinsky, the George Littlefield Professor of History at The University of Texas, is a leading historian of modern American politics and society. His works include “A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy” and "Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice,” both of which won major prizes and were New York Times Notable Books.

Oshinsky will be signing copies of “Polio: An American Story” (Oxford University Press) at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 28 at Barnes & Noble in the Arboretum in Austin.

For more information contact: Dr. David Oshinsky, 512-569-4900.