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Post-Polio Health (ISSN 1066-5331)

Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter 2014


The Iconic Iron Lung and
Polio Survivors in the USA

Joan L. Headley, PHI Executive Director, St. Louis, Missouri

PHI is frequently asked how many iron lungs are still in use. Respironics Colorado reports renting iron lungs to three individuals and providing parts and service to four other patients who own their device. All of these iron lungs were made by the J.H. Emerson Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, the history of ownership and maintenance of the iron lung used by the majority of polio survivors in the United States is complex and warrants recording, using the PHI archives.

Point of reference: A brochure revised in June 1946 (seventh printing) entitled Respirators: Locations and Owners was published by The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP). Basil O’Connor, president of NFIP, explains in the introduction that it is a list of the adult cabinet type respirators or “iron lungs.” The list totals 1,211 in the contiguous 48 states plus Washington, DC, and Hawaii. Owners included hospitals, the U.S. Army, fire departments, chapters of the NFIP, American Legion and other service groups, county medical societies and individual physicians and local citizens.

A timeline can more easily tell the rest of the story.



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