Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio

Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America

BERT HANSEN
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 350
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhzwn
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  • Book Info
    Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio
    Book Description:

    Today, pharmaceutical companies, HMOs, insurance carriers, and the health care system in general may often puzzle and frustrate the general publicùand even physicians and researchers. By contrast, from the 1880s through the 1950s Americans enthusiastically embraced medicine and its practitioners. Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio offers a refreshing portrait of an era when the public excitedly anticipated medical progress and research breakthroughs.

    This unique study with 130 archival illustrations drawn from newspaper sketches, caricatures, comic books, Hollywood films, and LIFE magazine photography analyzes the relationship between mass media images and popular attitudes. Bert Hansen considers the impact these representations had on public attitudes and shows how media portrayal and popular support for medical research grew together and reinforced each other.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4859-3
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. PART I THE SETTING
    • CHAPTER 1 MEDICINE IN THE PUBLIC EYE, THEN AND NOW
      (pp. 3-10)

      FOR AMERICANS OF THE 1950s, the single most important newspaper and magazine story was the successful field trial of Jonas Salk’s new vaccine to prevent infantile paralysis. Fear of polio had been pervasive in the lives of ordinary people, heightened by the uncertainty of when, how, and where it would strike. Although polio cases were measured in the thousands, not millions, infantile paralysis was every parent’s fear. With the vaccine breakthrough, feelings of hope and relief overwhelmed the more than twenty million U.S. households with children.

      The publicity surrounding this triumph was unprecedented in magnitude, as was the enormous number...

    • CHAPTER 2 BEFORE THERE WERE MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS: DISEASES AND DOCTORS IN THE PICTORIAL PRESS, 1860–1890
      (pp. 11-42)

      SINCE MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHSas far-reaching media events were entirely unknown in the United States before 1885, what pictures of health care did ordinary people have in mind before this change? How did the graphic media portray medicine? If change was not paramount, what were the enduring commonplaces? Between 1860 and 1885, the imagery changed little, and popular sentiment retained the centuries-old understanding, shared by physicians and patients alike, that little ever changed in medicine. Even by the early 1880s—with important new scientific discoveries being made in anatomy, physiology, cell biology, and bacteriology—medicine had seen few successful advances in...

  5. PART II A NEW REGIME OF MEDICAL PROGRESS
    • CHAPTER 3 HOW MEDICINE BECAME HOT NEWS, 1885
      (pp. 45-74)

      WHEN LOUIS PASTEURannounced the successful inoculation of a person with his experimental rabies vaccine in 1885, he was already well known to the French public. The chemist had been celebrated in France for such intellectual and practical achievements as preventing spoilage of wine and beer, saving the silk industry from a silkworm disease, and inventing a vaccine to protect cattle and sheep from anthrax. Across the Atlantic, however, his science and his name were familiar to only a small number of Americans, largely careful readers ofScientific Americanand younger physicians who had recently completed medical training in Europe.¹...

    • CHAPTER 4 POPULAR ENTHUSIASM FOR LABORATORY DISCOVERIES, 1885–1895
      (pp. 75-100)

      THE DELUGE OF PUBLICITYabout Pasteur and his Newark boys—hundreds of pictures, thousands of articles, live performances, and reenactments in wax—was not just a temporary flood that receded and passed into memory. Its consequences were many and lasting. It initiated a number of cultural developments, which in turn brought permanent changes to popular notions of medicine and to its images in the U.S. media. The “latest” remedies started to displace traditional medical care in popular writings and graphics; a concept of the medical researcher entered public awareness; and additional medical breakthroughs came to be expected. Biological fluids prepared...

    • CHAPTER 5 CREATING AN INSTITUTIONAL BASE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH, 1890–1920
      (pp. 101-122)

      ISOLATED BREAKTHROUGHS, sporadic and unconnected, represented the first wave of medical discoveries that entranced the American public. Between 1885 and 1895, rabies shots, organ extracts, tuberculin, and diphtheria antitoxin all emerged from European laboratories and crossed the Atlantic to great acclaim. How did Americans start to do it for themselves? How were intermittent foreign advances superseded by an infrastructure that could generate them continuously? How did the United States establish institutions of research and discovery like those in Paris and Berlin? And how were the new research institutions pictured in the mass media?

      The initial hurried attempts to establish U.S....

  6. PART III MEDICAL HISTORY FOR THE PUBLIC, 1925–1950
    • CHAPTER 6 THE MASS MEDIA MAKE MEDICAL HISTORY POPULAR
      (pp. 125-153)

      BY THE EARLY 1920s, new medical discoveries had become routine in newspapers and magazines. Single advances each received less notice than in the past. Even stories that made front-page news, like insulin injections for diabetes in 1922, did not generate sustained waves of excitement. Discoveries were no longer met with the grand enthusiasm that had characterized an earlier generation’s response. No breakthroughs galvanized the nation. Had regular medical progress become so well established in popular culture that people were taking it for granted? What might have brought about a decline in the level of excitement about medical research?

      No single...

    • CHAPTER 7 ʺAND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORʺ: MAKING MEDICAL HISTORY COMMERCIAL
      (pp. 154-170)

      OVER THE SAME DECADESthat medical history came into prominence in books and films, commercial enterprises began to exploit images of doctors from the past. Large corporations sponsored hundreds of radio programs that dramatized medical history; insurance companies produced information booklets and magazine advertising that featured stories of medical heroes; and businesses of all sorts drew on the cachet of medical progress to promote their own products. Sometimes the print ads and pamphlets sold specific products; more frequently they served as “image advertising” intended to burnish a corporation’s general reputation for integrity and scientific dependability. These appearances were myriad, diverse,...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 8 POPULAR MEDICAL HISTORY IN CHILDRENʹS COMIC BOOKS OF THE 1940s
      (pp. 171-204)

      THE 1940s HAVEbeen called a “golden age of medicine,” characterized by doctors’ high social status, the profession’s credibility, public confidence in miracle cures, and an expansion of funding for medical research.¹ For the general public, it was also a golden age of medical history in books, film, and radio. In 1941, the audience was enlarged by millions of children and adolescents when a brightly colored genre of medical history debuted in popular comic books. Yet because the 1940s comics with medical history stories are hard to find today, these books have been overlooked as a source for understanding medicine...

  7. PART IV THE MODERN IMAGERY OF MEDICAL PROGRESS
    • CHAPTER 9 LIFE LOOKS AT MEDICINE: MAGAZINE PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE AMERICAN PUBLIC
      (pp. 207-255)

      WHAT WAS THISmagazine that brashly took the titleLife?NotBoy’s LifeorOutdoor Life, or evenAmerican Life, but simply and boldlyLife—in huge white letters framed in solid red on the upper corner of the large cover photograph?Lifemagazine began in November 1936 and quickly gained a circulation in the millions. To printLife’s large photographs with sufficient clarity, it was necessary to develop special coated paper and to reengineer printing plants. The scale was staggering: a single week’s issue required seven million pounds of paper and two hundred thousand pounds of ink. After the...

    • CHAPTER 10 THE MEANING OF AN ERA
      (pp. 256-268)

      THE YEAR 1955was a great moment for medical research and for the American public. Millions of cheering American families warmly welcomed the triumph of the Salk polio vaccine, and the media celebrated it grandly. Enthusiasm for medical progress had never been higher. It seemed that more breakthroughs were ready at hand and that medical progress had no limit. Over the prior seventy years, medicine had improved immeasurably, breakthroughs had become bigger and bigger, setbacks and failures had gone unnoticed, and criticism of medical research had been largely unimaginable. An editorial cartoon of 1955 embodied the easy optimism about steady...

  8. APPENDIX: RADIO DRAMAS OF MEDICAL HISTORY IN CAVALCADE OF AMERICA
    (pp. 269-270)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 271-328)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 329-348)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-350)