Jonas Salk

Jonas Salk was an American medical researcher and virologist, best known for his discovery and development of the first safe and effective polio vaccine.

Early life

Jonas Edward Salk was born on October 28, 1914 in the city of New York to parents Daniel and Dora Salk. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants with rather scarce education and rather poor material situation, non the less they wanted to educate their kids as much as they could.


Jonas attended Townsend Harris High School which was a public institution designed for intellectually gifted students. There he received his dose of scholar discipline since schools motto was “study, study, study”. Jonas Salk soon risen from the flock trough his outstanding accomplishments. Following High School, Jonas enrolled in City College of New York where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1934. At his mother’s urging, he dropped the idea of becoming a lawyer and shifted his focus on medical school.

He attended New York University School of Medicine where he also stood out of the rest with his ambition and hard work. Soon bacteriology replaced his initial primary interest in medicine. In 1941, during his postgraduate work in virology he chose a two-month elective to work in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Francis at the University of Michigan. It was in Francis’s laboratory that he first came in contact with practical virology and was immediately hooked.


In 1947 Jonas Salk was offered residency at the Medical School of University of Pittsburgh which he accepted. There Salk worked with the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis on developing a vaccine for polio which is short for poliomyelitis. At the time this illness was widely spread and was greatly feared. It took scientists enough time to find out that polio was transmitted via fecal matter and secretions of the nose and throat. After getting into the system of the host orally, polio virus bodies would travel trough intestines eventually ending up in the spinal cord and brain. Jonas Salk devoted 8 years of his life to research and development of polio vaccine and in 1952 his vaccine was fully developed.

In 1947, Jonas Salk accepted residency at the Medical School of the University of Pittsburgh and worked with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. It was here that he devoted 8 years of his life working to develop the polio vaccine. In 1952 his vaccine was developed; he and his family including his staff and volunteers were first inoculated to test its effectiveness.

On April 12, 1955, Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., of the University of Michigan, the monitor of the test results, declared the vaccine to be safe and effective. What ensued can only be described as all out public spread of joy and happiness. It was official, the vaccine worked. Word spread quickly and the vaccine was spread out all around the world. This success brought Salk world wide fame, and his decision to refuse to patent the vaccine endeared himself to the public more than ever. By the end of 1990 it was estimated that 500,000 annual cases worldwide of paralysis as result of polio had been prevented due to immunization programs.

Later life

Following his success with treating polio virus, Salk was hit with great publicity and soon became something of a public figure. Although he preferred his individualism, Salk had to maintain some level of publicity. Salk was awarded many award, among them the Presidential Medal of Freedom which received from President Jimmy Carter. Continuing his research, Salk tried to tackle the AIDS virus and shortly afterwards patented the Remune, an immune based therapy. Jonas Salk died from heart failure at the age of 80 on June 23, 1995 in La Jolla and was buried at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego.

Jonas Salk quotes


“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmares because of my dreams”

“Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.”

“I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.”

“Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.”

“The worst tragedy that could have befallen me was my success. I knew right away that I was through – cast out.”