Infectious Disease in American History

Infectious disease, and our response to it, has shaped American history. The museum’s collections document the technologies and techniques employed to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious disease over the past 200+ years. They shed light on the impact of infectious disease on individuals and communities, the work of medical professionals and scientists, and the role of government in public health.

To learn more, explore our collections, exhibitions, archives, and blogs below.

Find resources and collections by Disease Topic

Gordon Patent VaccinatorSmallpox

Learn about the earliest vaccination campaign, and how people around the world worked together to eradicate the dreaded pox.

Anti-Diphtheritic SerumDiphtheria

Explore how scientists used horses to develop an effective treatment for this disease once known as the “scourge of childhood."

This Fight is Yours Join the March of Dimes posterPolio

Learn how citizens across the United States pitched in to help develop and test a vaccine for polio

Anti-Tetanic SerumTetanus

Discover why tetanus, also known as “lock-jaw,” became associated with Fourth of July celebrations and World War One.

Cough and La Grippe Combination box logoInfluenza

Discover why influenza-- once known as “la grippe”—requires a reformulated vaccine every year.

Rabies Vac-TrapRabies

Investigate why controlling rabies requires effective methods to deliver vaccines to people, pets, and wild animals.

Rubella Hero posterMeasles, Mumps, and Rubella

Learn why scientists in the 1960s developed vaccines for common “childhood diseases.”

Blue Sputum FlaskTuberculosis

Examine why public health officials urged tuberculosis patients to safely collect and dispose of their sputum.

Vapo-CresoleneWhooping Cough (Pertussis)

Investigate some of the challenges scientists faced when developing a pertussis vaccine.

Scarlet Fever AntitoxinPlague, scarlet fever, pneumonia, meningitis, and others

Explore vaccines and serums developed to fight infectious diseases.

Container of Sheridan’s Cavalry Condition PowderInfectious Disease and Animals

Consider why the relationships among humans, animals, and microbes are fundamental to understanding infectious disease.

The Germ of Gonorrhea SlideDiagnosing Disease

Discover how diagnostic tests have been critical to disease tracking and public health efforts.

Bent Angle Smith Tube from the New York City Department of Health and HygieneNew York City Public Health Collections

Learn about the NYC Health Department and its pioneering work in disease research and prevention.

Tactile Model of the Polio VirusImmune System Animations and Explanations

Explore how bodies fight infectious disease and how vaccines and other antibody-based technologies work.

Block of Synol Soap Hygiene and Disease Control

Investigate how soap and sanitation became recognized as important factors in preventing disease.

Pig and Terramycin soluble powderBacteria, Beer, and Health

Discover the connections between the "diseases" of beer and the development of antibiotics.

From Our Blog

This year we commemorate 50 years of mumps vaccination in America, helping to make chipmunk cheeks and other complications a thing of our nation's past.
Rectangular cardboard box labeled "Rabies Vaccine (Duck Embryo)" in a printed label. It is half open. Inside, vials with liquid are visible.
Anyone who endured a terrifying childhood screening of "Old Yeller" can testify that the ghastly symptoms of rabies, as well as its transmission via the bite of an infected animal, make rabies a particularly feared and fabled disease.
See more blog posts