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This Week in Universal News: Spraying DDT to Prevent Polio, 1946

by on May 19, 2014


In 1955, after years of research and testing, the polio vaccine created by Jonas Salk was declared safe and effective. The devastating virus is nearly eradicated in the United States today. In 1946, however, two years before Jonas Salk first began his research, the city of San Antonio, Texas tried to prevent the spread of a polio outbreak by dousing the city with DDT, apparently in a misguided effort to kill insects they believed carried the disease. Most people today know that spraying DDT will not prevent polio, and can actually harm one’s health. Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring (1962) exposed the hazards of commonly-used pesticides, and the chemical was mostly banned in the early 1970s.

From the release sheet:

City Gets D.D.T. Treatment

San Antonio, Texas–To check the spread of polio, this Lone Star city used up-to-date methods–spraying the entire town with insect-killing D.D.T. Special vehicles, and individuals, help lay down a smoke-screen.

DDT2

The streets of San Antonio are blanketed with DDT as citizens look on.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.


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