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Jonas Salk, MD

Born: October 28, 1914
Died: June 23, 1995

Major Contribution:

Jonas Salk is known best as the developer of the first successful vaccine against poliomyelitis. The vaccine contains inactivated ("killed") poliovirus and is given by injection.

Other Information:

Brief Biography: Jonas Salk was born in New York City. He grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx. He entered City College at 15 and graduated in 1934 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He completed medical school at New York University in 1939. During his last year in medical school, he became friends with Dr. Thomas Francis, chairman of the Department of Bacteriology, who was conducting important research on influenza and other diseases. Salk worked with him for nine months following his graduation from medical school. Salk then undertook a two-year internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which he completed in 1942.

Salk worked again with Thomas Francis at the University of Michigan, where they developed the first successful influenza vaccine. Salk then became Associate Research Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine (1947).

Salk's early work at Pittsburgh was a continuation of his Michigan influenza vaccine research. Next, he focused on carrying out part of the systematic classification of the various strains of poliovirus. As that program neared completion, he began research on a vaccine for the prevention of polio. The central element in Salk's efforts was the development of a non-infectious, or "killed virus", vaccine. He used tissue-culture methods to produce the poliovirus and employed a formaldehyde solution to inactivate it.

By June of 1952, he and his team had developed what they considered to be a promising experimental polio vaccine, and began testing the vaccine in local children. A massive, nationwide field trial of the vaccine, involving a total of 1,831,702 children in grades one through three, began on April 26, 1954. 441,131 children received the Salk vaccine, 201,229 were injected with a placebo, and the remainder served as uninjected controls. The field trial was coordinated by Thomas Francis at the University of Michigan, who reached the conclusion that the vaccine was “safe, effective, and potent”. Francis presented his report in Ann Arbor on April 12, 1955, coincidentally the tenth anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who himself had been a victim of polio. Salk's work was funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which raised money from the public through its “March of Dimes” campaign.

By the end of April 1955, around 5 million children had been inoculated with commercially produced Salk vaccine. Unfortunately, a large batch of vaccine manufactured by Cutter Laboratories (Berkeley, California) actually caused polio in 250 cases. The Cutter vaccine was taken off the market and more stringent specifications for the manufacture of the vaccine were put in place. On May 27, 1955, the Surgeon-General announced that the vaccination program could be resumed.

Although Salk's inactivated vaccine was successful in combating polio, other researchers, most notably Hilary Koprowski and Albert Sabin, had been exploring live, attentuated (weakened) poliovirus vaccines. They felt that a killed-virus vaccine like Salk's would not be as effective at preventing polio. Sabin’s oral vaccine was fully licensed in the U.S.in 1962.

By 1960 Salk had chosen San Diego as the site for what would become the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. A substantial amount of start-up funds came from the National Foundation-March of Dimes. He served as Director of the Salk Institute from 1963-1975.

Salk also conducted important research on the prevention and treatment of influenza, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. In his later years he wrote and lectured extensively on an evolutionary perspective to provide insight on ways to improve the human condition.

Location of papers:
Jonas Salk Papers, Mandeville Special Collections Library
University of California San Diego Libraries 0175S
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0175
858-534-5950 fax

See Mandeville Special Collections Library for links to the on-line register to the Salk papers (1926–1991), most of which refer to his time at the University of Pittsburgh. The collection is restricted. Send requests to spcoll@ucsd.edu. 

Additional Resources: The Jonas Salk Center, representing the family of Jonas Salk, manages his historical and educational legacy. The site provides resources for teachers and students, research services, biographical sketches, and a bibliography of important journal articles and other publications. Jonas Salk Licensing manages copyrights, rights of publicity (use of name, voice, photograph or other image) and other intellectual property rights on behalf of the family of Jonas Salk. Email Info@Jonas-Salk.org

Major Articles: Jonas Salk, MD

Articles found at HighWire Press® Stanford University (*Asterisk denotes article is free of subscription fee.)

Vaccination Against Poliomyelitis: an Ounce of Prevention. Jonas E. Salk. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, Jan 1959; 79: 310 - 322.

Principles Of Immunization As Applied To Poliomyelitis And Influenza.* Jonas E. Salk. American Journal of Public Health, Nov 1953; 43: 1384 - 1398. 

A Practical Means For Inducing And Maintaining Antibody Formation.*Jonas E. Salk, P. L. Bazeley, Byron L. Bennett, Ulrich Krech, L. James Lewis, Elsie N. Ward, And J. S. Youngner. Am J Public Health, Aug 1954; 44: 994 - 1009.

Formaldehyde Treatment And Safety Testing Of Experimental Poliomyelitis Vaccines.* Jonas E. Salk, Ulrich Krech, J. S. Youngner, Byron L. Bennett, L. J. Lewis, And P. L. Bazeley. Am J Public Health, May 1954; 44: 563 - 570.

Vaccination Against Paralytic Poliomyelitis Performance And Prospects.* Jonas E. Salk. Am J Public Health, May 1955; 45: 575 - 596.

Present Status Of The Problem Of Vaccination Against Poliomyelitis.* Jonas E. Salk. Am J Public Health, Mar 1955; 45: 285 - 297.

Antigenic Activity Of Poliomyelitis Vaccines Undergoing Field Test.* Jonas E. Salk, L. James Lewis, Byron L. Bennett, Elsie N. Ward, Ulrich Krech, And J. S. Youngner. Am J Public Health, Feb 1955; 45: 151 - 162.

Poliomyelitis Vaccine In The Fall Of 1955.* Jonas E. Salk. Am J Public Health, Jan 1956; 46: 1 - 14.

Poliomyelitis Vaccination in the Fall of 1956.* Jonas E. Salk. Am J Public Health, Jan 1957; 47: 1 - 18. Recent Studies On Immunization Against Poliomyelitis. Jonas E. Salk. Pediatrics, Nov 1953; 12: 471 - 482.

Immunologic Classification Of Poliomyelitis Viruses: Iii. Results Obtained With The Method Of Neutralization By Prototype Antisera: B. Studies From The University Of Pittsburgh On Twenty-Three Strains. Jonas E. Salk, L. James Lewis, Byron L. Bennett, And J. S. Youngner. Am. J. Epidemiol., Sep 1951; 54: 230. - 242.

Immunologic Classification Of Poliomyelitis Viruses: Iv. Results Of Typing By Neutralization Of Prototype Viruses With Antiserum Produced By Vaccinating Monkeys With Unknown Strain And An Adjuvant. Jonas E. Salk, J. S. Younger, L. James Lewis, And Byron L. Bennett. Am. J. Epidemiol., Sep 1951; 54: 255 - 267.

Immunologic Classification Of Poliomyelitis Viruses: Iii. Results Obtained With The: Method Of Neutralization With Prototype Antisera: A. Preparation Of Antiserum Pools. Jonas E. Salk, Byron L. Bennett, L. James Lewis, And J. S. Youngner. Am. J. Epidemiol., Sep 1951; 54: 216 - 229.

The Use Of Adjuvants To Facilitate Studies On The Immunologic Classification Of Poliomyelitis Viruses. Jonas E. Salk, L. James Lewis, J. S. Youngner, And Byron L. Bennett. Am. J. Epidemiol., Sep 1951; 54: 157 - 173.

Direction Of Research On Vaccination Against Influenza—New Studies With Immunologic Adjuvants. *Jonas E. Salk, Angela M. Laurent, and Mary Lynch Bailey. Am J Public Health, Jun 1951; 41: 669 - 677.

Studies On Poliomyelitis Viruses In Cultures Of Monkey Testicular Tissue: Ii. Differences Among Strains In Tissue Culture Infectivity With Preliminary Data On The Quantitative Estimation Of Virus And Antibody. J. S. Youngner, Elsie N. Ward, And Jonas E. Salk. Am. J. Epidemiol., Mar 1952; 55: 301 - 322.

Studies On Poliomyelitis Viruses In Cultures Of Monkey Testicular Tissue: I. Propagation Of Virus In Roller Tubes. J. S. Youngner, Elsie N. Ward, And Jonas E. Salk. Am. J. Epidemiol., Mar 1952; 55: 291 - 300.

The Use Of Adjuvants In Studies On Influenza Immunization: Ii. Increased Antibody Formation In Human Subjects Inoculated With Influenza Virus Vaccine In A Water-In-Oil Emulsion. Jonas E. Salk, Mary Lynch Bailey, And Angela M. Laurent. Am. J. Epidemiol., May 1952; 55: 439 - 456.

Studies On Poliomyelitis Viruses In Cultures Of Monkey Testicular Tissue: Iii. Isolation And Immunologic Identification Of Poliomyelitis Viruses From Fecal Specimens By Means Of Roller Tube Cultures. J. S. Youngner, L. James Lewis, Elsie N. Ward, And Jonas E. Salk. Am. J. Epidemiol., May 1952; 55: 347 - 356.

Use Of Color Change Of Phenol Red As The Indicator In Titrating Poliomyelitis Virus Or Its Antibody In A Tissue–Culture System. Jonas E. Salk, J. S. Youngner, And Elsie N. Ward. Am. J. Epidemiol., Sep 1954; 60: 214 - 230.

Antibody Titer For Seven Different Type I Strains Of Poliomyelitis Virus In Children Vaccinated With The Mahoney Strain. J. S. Youngner And Jonas E. Salk. Am. J. Epidemiol., Mar 1956; 63: 198 - 203.

The virus of poliomyelitis. From discovery to extinction. J. Salk. JAMA, Aug 1983; 250: 808. Landmark article Aug 6, 1955: Considerations in the preparation and use of poliomyelitis virus vaccine. By Jonas E. Salk. J. E. Salk. JAMA, May 1984; 251: 2700.

The Use Of Adjuvants In Studies On Influenza Immunization: I. Measurements In Monkeys Of The Dimensions Of Antigenicity Of Virus-Mineral Oil Emulsions. *Jonas E. Salk And Angela M. Laurent. J. Exp. Med., May 1952; 95: 429 - 447.

Immunologic Comparison of Different Laboratory Lines of the Lansing Strain of Poliomyelitis Virus. Byron L. Bennett and Jonas E. Salk. J. Immunol., Feb 1951; 66: 277 - 281.

Evidence for Dissociation of Titer of Infectious and Antigenic Activity in a Preparation of the Lansing Strain of Poliomyelitis Virus.  Jonas E. Salk and Byron L. Bennett. J. Immunol., Feb 1951; 66: 283 - 286.

Control of influenza and poliomyelitis with killed virus vaccines.  J Salk and D Salk. Science, Mar 1977; 195: 834 - 847.

Articles Found at ScienceDirect

Vaccinology Of Poliomyelitis. Vaccine. Darrel Salk and Jonas Salk. Volume 2, Issue 1, March 1984, Pages 59-74.

Are Booster Doses Of Poliovirus Vaccine Necessary? Jonas Salk Proposes A Scientific Evaluation. Jonas Salk. Vaccine, Volume 8, Issue 5, October 1990, Pages 419-420.

Induction Of Humoral And Cellular Immunity To Simian Immunodeficiency Virus: What Are The Requirements For Protection? Bruno Vaslin, Roger Le Grand, Guillaume Vogt, Olivier Benveniste, Gabriel Gras, Pierre Roques, Philippe Stoeckel, Peter L. Salk, Jonas Salk and Dominique Dormont.. Vaccine, Volume 12, Issue 12, 1994, Pages 1132-1140.

Creativity As A Distributed Function. Bruce J. West and Jonas Salk. Journal of Social and Biological Systems, Volume 11, Issue 1, January 1988, Pages 158-161.

Complexity, Organization And Uncertainty. Bruce J. West and Jonas Salk. European Journal of Operational Research, Volume 30, Issue 2, June 1987, Pages 117-128.

The Immunology Of New Generation Vaccines. Maurizio Zanetti, Eli Sercarz and Jonas Salk. Immunology Today, Volume 8, Issue 1, 1987, Pages 18-25.

Induction Of Long-Term Immunity To Paralytic Poliomyelitis By Use Of Non-Infectious Vaccine. Darrell Salk, AntonL. Van Wezel and Jonas Salk. The Lancet, Volume 324, Issue 8415, 8 December 1984, Pages 1317-1321.

Merging Intuition And Reason. Jonas Salk. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Volume 26, Issue 2, September 1984, Pages 167-170.

Articles found at JSTOR

The Next Evolutionary Step in the Ascent of Man in the Cosmos. Jonas Salk Leonardo > Vol. 18, No. 4, Special Issue: Jacob Bronowski: A Retrospective (1985), pp. 237-242 Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0024-094X%281985%2918%3A4%3C237%3ATNESI...

From WorldCat

Splendid Solution : Jonas Salk And The Conquest Of Polio. Jeffrey Kluger. New York:G.P. Putnam's Sons, ©2004. Jonas Salk. Don McLeese. (Juvenile audience, Internet Resource). Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Publishing., ©2006.

Jonas Salk. Deanne Durrett. (Elementary and Junior High School). Detroit. MI: Kidhaven Press, ©2002.

Jonas Salk. Marjorie Curson. (Juvenile audience). Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Silver Burdett, ©1990.

Jonas Salk, Microbiologist. Ronald A Reis. New York, NY : Ferguson, ©2006.

Jonas Salk : Conquering Polio. Stephanie Sammartino McPherson (Elementary and Junior High School). Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Company, ©2002.

The Survival Of The Wisest. Jonas Salk. New York, Harper & Row, 1973

Jonas Salk : Polio Pioneer. Corinne J Naden; Rose Blue. (Primary school). Brookfield, CT:Millbrook Press, 2001.

Jonas Salk. James Barter. (Elementary and Junior High School). San Diego, CA: Lucent Books ; Detroit : Thomson Gale, ©2002.

Jonas Salk. Richard Hantula. (Elementary and Junior High School). Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac, 2004.

The Virus And The Vaccine : The True Story Of A Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, And The Millions Of Americans Exposed. Debbie Bookchin; Jim Schumacher. New York : St. Martin's Press, ©2004.

Jonas Salk And The Polio Vaccine. Katherine E Krohn; A Milgrom. (Juvenile Audience). Mankato, MN:: Capstone Press, ©2007.

Jonas Salk And The Polio Vaccine. John Bankston. (Elementary and Junior High School). Bear, DE: Mitchell Lane, ©2002.

Jonas Salk : creator of the Polio Vaccine.Salvatore Tocci. (Elementary and Junior High School) Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, ©2002.

The story of Jonas Salk and the Discovery of the Polio Vaccine. Jim Hargrove. (Juvenile Audience). Chicago: Childrens Press, ©1990.

World Population and Human Values:  A New Reality. Jonas Salk; Jonathan Salk. New York: Harper & Row, ©1981. Jonas Salk. Michael Tomlinson. (Juvenile a\Audience). Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Publications, ©1993.

Man Unfolding. Jonas Salk. New York, Harper & Row, 1972.

Anatomy of Reality : Merging of Intuition and Reason. Jonas Salk. New York : Columbia University Press, 1983.

Jonas Salk : Discoverer of the Polio Vaccine. Carmen Bredeson. (Juvenile audience). Hillside, NJ: Enslow Publishers, ©1993.

Jonas Salk : Polio Vaccine Pioneer. Peggy J Parks. (Elementary and Junior High School). San Diego: Blackbirch Press, ©2004.

The Polio Man; the Story of Dr. Jonas Salk. John Rowland. (Juvenile Audience) New York, Roy Publishers [1961, ©1960].

The Great Innovators - The Man Who Put an End to Polio - In the 1950s, Dr. Jonas Salk worked with lightning speed to develop and test his vaccine. Business Week, June 28, 2004. Jonas Salk. (Motion picture, Film). KPBS San Diego, CA: ACI Films, Inc. Located at Kent State University audiovisual service.

Conquering Polio - A half-century ago, researcher Jonas Salk's vaccine against a scourge was, at long last, deemed safe and effective. Jeffrey Kluger. Smithsonian. 36, no. 1, (2005): 82.

Jonas Salk. Karen Quastler; Corinn Codye Scott; James Balkovek. Castro Valley, CA: Quercus Corp., ©1987.

Jonas Salk Personally Speaking. (Videorecording, DVD Video). Judith Bronowski; Warren Olney. KPBS San Diego, CA: Carousel Films. New York Public Library.

Tribute - Thanks to the vaccine developed by medical miracle worker Jonas Salk, polio epidemics-- which were once a worldwide scourge--are a threat no longer. People weekly, July 10, 1995: 76.

Nonfiction - Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio. Jeffrey Kluger; Jerome Groopman. The New York times book review. (April 10, 2005): 28.

The Jewish 100: A Ranking Of The Most Influential Jews Of All Time. Michael Shapiro. New York: Carol Pub. Group, ©1994.

The Science Of Hope With Jonas Salk. (Videorecording, VHS tape).Bill D Moyers. Alexandria, VA: PBS Video, 1990.

Marching To A Different Drummer The Life And Career Of Jonas Salk. (Videorecording, VHS tape). Jonas Salk; Phillip L Owens. Cabisco Teleproductions. Burlington, NC: Carolina Biological Supply Co., ©1991.

Krishnamurti In Dialogue With Dr. Jonas Salk. (Videorecording, VHS tape). J. Krishnamurti; Jonas Salk; Krishnamurti Foundation of AmericaOjai, CA: The Foundation, 1982. Located at Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA.

Jonas Salk. (Motion Picture Newsreel). White House, United Press, 1955. Located at The Evergreen State College Library Olympia, WA.

Jonas Salk responds upon receiving the Freedom Award from President Carter. (Sound Recording). Jonas Salk; Coretta Scott King, 1977. Located at Michigan State University Libraries, East Lansing, MI.

References from Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky New York: Oxford University Press. 2005:

Vaccine’s Name Irks Salk. Pittsburgh Press, April 12, 1955.

The Story Behind the Polio Vaccine. Wisdom, August 1956, 10–16.

Leadership Qualities Draw Skilled, Devoted Workers. Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, August 4, 1959.

Salk Team’s ‘Mr. Inside’ Honored for Work on Polio Vaccine. Pittsburgh Posts-Gazette, August 9, 2001.

Studies in Human Subjects on Active Immunization Against Poliomyelitis. Salk, Jonas. Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 151, no. 13, 1088–93.

Dr. Jonas E. Salk—Scientist with a Mission. Shirley Levine, Pittsburgh Jewish Outlook, April 10, 1953.

The Salk Polio Vaccine Trial of 1954: Risks, Randomization and Public Involvement in Research.  Lisa Dawson,. Clinical Trials, 2004, 122–30.

Salks’ Regrets are Few.  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 27, 1994.

A Hero’s Great Discovery is Out of Work.  Life, May 2, 1955, 27.

An International Hero Returns Home to Pittsburgh. Greater Pittsburgh, May 1955, 25–26.

The Making of Jonas Salk.  Marc Selvaggio. Pittsburgh Magazine, June 1984, 43–51.

Control of Influenza and Poliomyelitis with Killed Virus Vaccines.  Jonas Salk and Darrell Salk. Science, March 4, 1977, 834–47.

Eradication of Poliomyelitis in the United States. Darrell Salk. Reviews of Infectious Diseases, March–April, 19890, 228–42.

Herd Effect and Virus Eradication with the Use of Killed Poliovirus Vaccine. Darrell Salk. International Symposium of Reassessment of Inactivated Poliomyelitis Vaccine, 1981, 247–55.

Polio Immunization Policy in the United States: A New Challenge for a New Generation.  Darrell Salk. American Journal of Public Health, March 1988, 296–300.

AIDS Experiment Based on Salk’s Theories. New York Times, February 12, 1988.

A Shot in the Dark: Jonas Salk and the Quest for an AIDS Vaccine. Phillip Nobile. Bergen Record, December 2, 1990.

Hopeful Talk from Jonas Salk. Business Week, June 21, 1993.

References from the book, Patenting The Sun by Jane S. Smith New York: Morrow, 1990:

Polio: A Cure for the New Controversy. Jonas Salk. New York Times, 26 May 1974.

Salk Institute: Elitist Pursuit of Biology with a Conscience. Nicholas Wade. Science, November 24, 1972.

Salk: Adulation, Animosity, and Achievement.  Elmer Bendiner. Hospital Practice, June 1983, 194–218.

Breakthrough: The Saga of Jonas Salk. Richard Carter. New York: Trident Press, 1966.


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