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Infantile Paralysis Wishing Well (MO 1943.161.5)

In 1921, at the age of 39, Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio and became paralyzed from the waist down. For the rest of his life, FDR was committed to finding a way to rehabilitate himself as well as others afflicted with infantile paralysis. In 1934, Roosevelt began using the occasion of his birthday each year  to encourage Americans to throw “Birthday Balls” to help raise funds for his Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, which facilitated polio rehabilitation at the center he had established in Warm Springs in 1927.

In 1938, FDR created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to support the rehabilitation center at Warm Springs and also to aid the victims of polio throughout the country. To increase awareness of the Foundation’s campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in “a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.”

Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised $18.9 million for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The March of Dimes (as the National Foundation became known) financially supported the research and development of a polio vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1955, eradicating the disease throughout most of the world by the 1960s.

This copper wishing well was a birthday gift to the President that celebrated his philanthropic efforts. The roof of the little well house is inscribed: “Celebrate The President’s Birthday, Fight Infantile Paralysis, ‘Make A Wish, It’s Sure To Come True’.” Its base is inscribed: “To The Greatest Fighter Of All, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Whose Example Has Been An Inspiration To Thousands Of Victims Of This Dreaded Scourge”; “A Gift From Dan Marovich, Director Northern California Committee, To Celebrate The President’s Birthday.”

To learn more about the March of Dimes Foundation, please visit: http://www.marchofdimes.com


January 8, 1958

“NEW YORK—I came home from Warm Springs, Ga., and the 20th anniversary celebration of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis with a feeling of great hope. I was delighted that the foundation looks upon its present achievements not as an ending, but as a beginning, and my hope is that it will succeed as well in the next 20 years as it has in the first.

I remember well the beginning of the foundation, and sometimes it seems just a short time ago. So much has been accomplished in 20 years. Through an appeal that reached the hearts of fathers and mothers, the people of the United States, through the March of Dimes, have made it possible for the foundation to finance research and to give scholarships—7,000 of them—to young promising students so they could train for their specialty in science and care for polio patients.

It was through one of these scholarships that Dr. Jonas Salk became a virologist, so it seemed especially fitting that he should be the one finally to give us the vaccine that has practically removed the fear of crippling paralysis.

No vaccine is, of course, 100 percent effective. Some individuals will not react to the Salk vaccine, but by and large the drop in crippling paralysis since children have been vaccinated with it has proved the vaccine almost 99 percent effective.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

January 3, 1938: FDR establishes the March of Dimes. The original name for this organization was the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis.

Franklin D. Roosevelt waving a check representing the proceeds from the first Birthday Ball in the White House.
February 1, 1934
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 82-71(20).

December 31, 1948

“NEW YORK, Thursday—…Yesterday I was presented with the “1949 Dime Hat,” which was designed and created by Dorothy Gordon to commemorate the new March of Dimes Campaign for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The brim of the hat is turned up on the left side and under the basket weave of the felt, dimes are inserted; many more dimes are tucked into slits in the crown—more than 400 dimes in all, which will be turned over to the National Foundation. I was delighted to accept Miss Gordon’s creation, but I must say I am glad I won’t have to wear it, for its weight would be a matter of considerable discomfort.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

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