Fighting an Invisible Enemy: Polio Epidemics in Rockford

Rockford struggled through several polio epidemics from the 1940s-1950s.

Don Swanson is a Rockford native and a polio survivor. The retired principal of Walker School, Swanson contracted polio at age 5 and spent a year in the hospital.

These images are part of a presentation created by Swanson to share his memories and experiences of Rockford's polio epidemics.

Polio hit Winnebago County hard. In 1945 there were 321 cases and 26 deaths in six months. Rockford’s population was approximately 93,000 people. Hospitals scrambled to add supplies and staff, and places of recreation were closed. In 1950 polio resurged in Rockford: 195 new cases were reported--42 of them in single week in August- and 9 died.

In 1955 a vaccine was successfully produced. Locally, public health advocates moved to tamp down infectious disease by improving sanitation at county landfills, and dramatically extending city sewer lines.


Donald Swanson and Midway Village Museum