Salk Institute
Discovery Timeline
Discovery Timeline


Jonas Salk moved to Pittsburgh from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He became an associate research professor of bacteriology and director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.


Jonas Salk transformed some of the hospital’s facilities into a modern virology laboratory and shifted his attention from influenza virus to poliovirus. Most support for Dr. Salk’s work came from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – later known as the March of Dimes. The founder of the organization was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself a victim of polio. The foundation had its roots in Roosevelt’s sponsorship of a polio treatment center in Georgia in the 1930s. In 1937, Roosevelt established the National Foundation. The president of the foundation was Basil O’Connor, Roosevelt’s former law partner.


Jonas Salk, having completed most of the National Foundation virus-typing project, turns his attention to developing an inactivated poliovirus vaccine.


Jonas Salk meets Basil O’Connor upon returning from the Second International Poliomyelitis Conference in Copenhagen. Their friendship led to many important projects.


Dr. Salk and his associates developed what they considered to be a safe potential polio vaccine. In June, they tested their vaccine on a group of children at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children (now The Watson Institute), located near Pittsburgh.


Dr. Salk’s team continued human trials of the vaccine, improved production techniques, and began to work with pharmaceutical companies to scale up for large clinical trials and commercial manufacture.


A large, nationwide controlled field trial of the polio vaccine began under the direction of Dr. Thomas Francis.


On April 12, at a convocation at the University of Michigan, Dr. Francis announced that vaccine had proven to be safe and effective.


Salk develops the idea of starting an institute for biological studies and begins the search for a site.


Salk visits San Diego.


Salk chooses San Diego as his preferred site and the City of San Diego donates 27-acre site. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is incorporated. The National Foundation/March of Dimes provides funds for the building. Salk chooses Louis Kahn as architect to collaborate on designing an ideal environment for research.


June: Groundbreaking. December: First concrete poured.


First labs set up in temporary buildings. The five original Resident Fellows, in addition to Jonas Salk, move to San Diego; selected: Jacob Bronowski, Melvin Cohn, Renato Dulbecco, Edwin Lennox, and Leslie Orgel. The first Nonresident Fellows selected: Leo Szilard, Francis Crick, Salvador Luria, Jacques Monod, and Warren Weaver.


First laboratories in the new north building are occupied.


Completion of core building construction.

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