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Gesundheit!

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. December 1918.

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. December 1918 (165-WW-269B-25).

When it comes to casualty statistics, we often compare wars. In World War II, it’s estimated that 50 million were killed. During the Civil War, over a half million people lost their lives. In World War I, nearly 16 million were killed.

There was one war that topped nearly all those charts. It happened in 1918, when the human race was fighting off the flu. Fifty million people died. One-fifth of the world was infected. In one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped 12 years because of the virus. Town meetings were canceled due to the flu, and one future President was worried when his wife came down with symptoms.

You can see startling images and documents relating to this epidemic in our online exhibit “The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918.” This exhibit is just one of many online exhibits available at your fingertips from the National Archives.

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Comments

Comment from Linda Wilky
Time October 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm

My great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather both died in the 1918 flu epidemic.

Comment from Clarence Bell
Time November 15, 2010 at 1:49 am

My grandfather and grandmother supposedly died in the 1918 Influenza Epidemic (according to my father’s stories). He was only 11-12 years old when his parents died in 1918. We have not been able to find any records of their deaths or where they were buried. My father said he didn’t know (or couldn’t remember). How can I find information of their deaths and burial?