Friday, February 4, 2011

Polio and the Sugar Cube Campaign

After the polio epidemic of the 1940's in the Pilot Mountain area, there was a second epidemic wave in the early fifties. Not as severe this time, it was still just as frightening as the first. This time, though, salvation was on the horizon.

A doctor by the name of Jonas Salk developed a vaccine that came on the market in 1955. The children at Pilot Mountain were assigned to go to a nearby school for their inoculations of the Salk Polio serum on Tuesday, April 25, 1955 at the county health officials suspended the clinic due to questions and concerns about the vaccine's safety. It was rescheduled for May and postponed again until the fall when finally the children were immunized against this dreaded disease.

A second doctor, Albert Sabin, developed an oral vaccine that came on the market in 1962. Eight counties in western North Carolina planned a massive "Stop Polio" drive and set Sunday March 8, 1964 as the target date. Local schools, including Pilot Mountain School, were designated "Feeding Stations." The PTA, Parent Teacher Association, organized the drive at the school and helped to administer the vaccine. There, in the school library.
No sharp needles this time. No pain. Just a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, only in this case it was a cube of sugar to make the serum go down. One liquid dose was dropped onto a sugar cube and handed to the client. Yum. What child would resist a sugar cube?

Eight weeks later, again on a Sunday, again at the school library, the process repeated for the second required dose. This sugar cube campaign succeeded in putting an end to polio in the valley.

Catch of the day,



  1. Hi Gretchen,

    I remember polio sugar cubes at school.

    Linda A.

  2. Hi Linda, I remember it too. I grew up in a community about a hundred miles away from this school. I was a Girl Scout and our troop helped with the sugar cubes, me in my little green dress and yellow scarf that I never did learn how to tie. I just never realized, or appreciated, how important the sugar cube campaign was to the children of that generation. Until now. I hear its importance in the voices of the parents I interview as they tell me of their long ago fears that are still so fresh in their minds.

  3. Why can't all "shots" be given this way?

  4. I received the pink drops on sugar cubes while I was in primary (elementary) school. As I transferred to junior high for seventh grade in 1963, it had to have been done before then.
    I had two doses. Somehow I have had the idea that three were required, but this account has only two.
    My uncle died of suffocation in 1936 from polio. He was 21. This was 15 years before my birth. My other uncle, his brother, had died at age 2 of pertussis (whooping cough) about 1914.

    1. Interesting. Thank you for contacting me and adding to the story.


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  6. Thanks, Arya. When I wrote this post I never imagined it would be relevant to my world other than interesting reading about history. We are in the midst of a new history, but someone else can write this. It's too close to my heart.