128 years ago today, first U.S. polio epidemic struck Rutland

By Guy Page

Rutland’s summer of 1894 was hot and dry, uncomfortably so even for people not yet acquainted with air conditioning. For a while, the heat and drought was all people were talking about. 

Until polio struck. 

128 years ago today, the United States’ first known polio epidemic broke out in Rutland. It struck 132 people. 10 died – many of them children. 

Rutland physician Dr. Charles Caverly, UVM Medical School class of 1881, was fascinated with the growing field of public health, a 2003 story by Ed Neurt in a UVM publication reports. He was president of the Vermont State Board of Health. As polio historians observe, he was the right man in the right place at the right time. 

Caverly did much to record the 1894 outbreak, as well as record and treat the ever-more-serious waves of polio that swept Vermont and the country until the discovery and distribution of the Jonas Salk vaccine in 1956. 

Caverly died of the Spanish flu in 1918. To read more, see “The New Disease Strikes the Otter Valley,” Vermont Medicine, 2003. 

Categories: History

3 replies »

  1. There is a much richer story behind polio and the Salk vaccine. I’d encourage everyone to learn more. An easy starting point is to watch Forrest Maready’s Truth About Polio series on youtube.

  2. The 1894 Vermont outbreak is covered in detail in the book “The Moth in the Iron Lung” by F. Maready. Heavy use of copper and lead arsenates on food crops is posited by the author to be a strong contributing factor to the outbreak.

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