US #1087 was designed to symbolize the struggle against polio.  Click the image to buy.

March of Dimes 

On January 3, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes.

In the early 1900s, polio affected thousands of American children every summer.  Found in contaminated food and water, it was easily transmitted and mostly affected children.

US #1950 was issued for FDRs 100th birthday. Click the image to buy.

However, in 1921, Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio at the age of 39, costing him the use of his legs.  Roosevelt worked hard to keep his condition out of the public eye. However, he had a deep sympathy for the handicapped and sought to help them.

In 1926, Roosevelt founded the George Warm Springs Foundation (named after the warm springs he visited for therapeutic aid). Then on January 3, 1938, Roosevelt reconstituted the charity as the National Foundation for Infant Paralysis (NFIP).  The NFIP was a non-partisan association of scientists and volunteers that worked to develop a polio vaccine and helped children with polio through their physical rehabilitation. The foundation also created a network of local chapters to raise money and distribute aid.

US #1087 – Plate Block First Day Cover.  Click the image to buy.

Initially, the NFIP raised funds at the annual President’s Birthday Ball, through donations from wealthy celebrities.  But over time the number of children affected outpaced the fundraising.  So President Roosevelt began appealing to the public to help.  During one fundraiser, singer Eddie Cantor jokingly told the public to send dimes to the president, which helped inspire the term “March of Dimes.”

US #3187a from the Celebrate the Century – 1950s sheet.  Click the image to buy.

The people of America answered his call though, soon flooded the White House with 2,680,000 dimes and thousands of dollars in donations.  The press called the public response, “a silver tide which actually swamped the White House.”

By Christmas, booths were set up in cities around the country where children could donate their dimes.  Children were significant donors, claiming they wanted to help other children to get better.

US #3428 – Silk Cachet Combination First Day Cover.  Click the image to buy.

By 1941, the March of Dimes raised enough funds to develop an iron lung, which helped polio patients breathe when they lost muscle control of their lungs.  In 1946, the US produced an FDR dime to honor his life and his work for the March of Dimes.  In 1949, the March of Dimes tasked Dr. Jonas Salk with developing a polio vaccine, which he achieved in 1955. Salk’s vaccine helped to decrease the number of polio cases per year from tens of thousands to just a handful.

US #2179 from the Great Americans series.  Click the image to buy.

Once polio had been defeated, the March of Dimes shifted their focus to birth defects prevention in 1958.  In this new avenue, the March of Dimes began funding genetic research and helping to create birth defects treatment centers in hospitals around the country.  They also helped to found the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, which studies a variety of diseases.

During this era, Virginia Apgar was a leading figure in the March of Dimes.  She was one of the first in the organization to discuss the issues of premature birth. She led a campaign for immunization against rubella, encouraged birth defects registries, and helped get genetic history and pregnancy history included in medical record keeping.  It was also during Apgar’s time that the March of Dimes began to promote healthy pregnancies with the slogan “Be good to your baby before it is born.”  In the years since the March of Dimes also added decreasing the rate of premature births to its mission.

Item #M12037 – March of Dimes silver proof dollar and dimes.  Click the image to buy.

Click here to learn more from the March of Dimes website.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Man tamed nature by controlling infectious diseases. Polio is success story of humanity against nature. I didn’t know the meaning of March of dimes, nor why we have FDR on our dimes that we use every day. Thanks Mystic for the real story to start New Year.

  2. There were cards that held dimes that we filled and donated It would be interesting to see one of those cards. A great creator of cooperation between peers and almost fun for the card fillers. What a change to today.

  3. Shouldn’t it be the “Georgia” Warm Springs Foundation? BTW, unlike today, Jonas Salk did not patent his polio vaccine so he could make millions in profits like Big Pharma does.

  4. A compelling story of the human spirit and the goodwill to help others out… Seeing less of that these days sadly.

  5. I was born in December 1945. Early in 1946 my mother and grandmother noticed I couldn’t hold my head up. They took me to the doctor and he diagnosed me with Polio on my right side. I was taken to St. Francis hospital in Cape Girardeau, MO. and they began treatment immediately. My parents were concerned for my health because they couldn’t afford the treatment . That is when a lady visited my parents and told them not to worry the March of Dimes would take care of all the cost. After 6 months I was almost normal until I was 62 years old and was diagnosed with Post Polio Syndrome and began using a Powerchair paid for by the Veterans Administration. I am now 78 and so thankful for March of Dimes.

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