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The American Experience
1918 Influenza Timeline

    At Fort Riley, Kansas, an Army private reports to the camp hospital just before breakfast on March 11 complaining of fever, sore throat, and headache. He was quickly followed by another soldier with similar complaints. By noon, the camp's hospital had dealt with over 100 ill soldiers. By week's end that number jumped to 500.

    Public health officials in Philadelphia issue a bulletin about the so-called Spanish influenza.

    Around the 27th of the month, sailors stationed on board the Receiving Ship at Commonwealth Pier in Boston begin reporting to sick-bay with the usual symptoms of the grippe. By August 30, over 60 sailors were sick. Soon, Commonwealth Pier was overwhelmed and 50 cases had to be transferred to Chelsea Naval Hospital. Flu sufferers commonly described feeling like they "had been beaten all over with a club."

    Dr. Victor Vaughn, acting Surgeon General of the Army, receives urgent orders to proceed to Camp Devens near Boston. Once there, what Vaughn sees changes his life forever: "I saw hundreds of young stalwart men in uniform coming into the wards of the hospital. Every bed was full, yet others crowded in. The faces wore a bluish cast; a cough brought up the blood-stained sputum. In the morning, the dead bodies are stacked about the morgue like cordwood." On the day that Vaughn arrived at Camp Devens, 63 men died from influenza.

    The Navy Radio School at Harvard University in Cambridge reports the first cases of influenza among the group of 5000 young men studying radio communications.

    On September 5, the Massachusetts Department of Health alerts area newspapers that an epidemic is underway. Dr. John S. Hitchcock of the state health department warned that "unless precautions are taken the disease in all probability will spread to the civilian population of the city."

    US Surgeon General Rupert Blue of the United States Public Health Service dispatches advice to the press on how to recognize the influenza symptoms. Blue prescribed bed rest, good food, salts of quinine, and aspirin for the sick.

    Lt. Col. Philip Doane, head of the Health and Sanitation Section of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, speaking in Washington, D.C., fuels the rumor and speculation by blaming the Germans for the deadly influenza that was striking Americans. Said Doane: "It would be quite easy for one of these German agents to turn loose Spanish influenza germs in a theater or some other place where large numbers of persons are assembled. The Germans have started epidemics in Europe, and there is no reason why they should be particularly gentle with America."

    Edward Wagner, a Chicagoan newly settled in San Francisco, falls ill with influenza on September 24. San Francisco public health officials had been downplaying the potential dangers posed by the flu. Dr. William Hassler, Chief of San Francisco's Board of Health had gone so far as to predict that the flu would not even reach the city.

    On September 28, 200,000 gather for a 4th Liberty Loan Drive in Philadelphia. Days after the parade, 635 new cases of influenza were reported. Within days, the city will be forced to admit that epidemic conditions exist. Churches, schools, and theaters are ordered closed, along with all other places of "public amusement."

    Royal Copeland, the Health Commissioner of New York City, announces, "The city is in no danger of an epidemic. No need for our people to worry."

    Boston registers 202 deaths from influenza on October 2. Shortly thereafter, the city canceled its Liberty Bond parades and sporting events. Churches were closed and the stock market was put on half-days.

    On October 6, Philadelphia posts what would be just the first of several gruesome records for the month: 289 influenza-related deaths in a single day.

    Congress approves a special $1 million fund to enable the U.S. Public Health Service to recruit physicians and nurses to deal with the growing epidemic. US Surgeon General Rupert Blue set out to hire over 1000 doctors and 700 nurses with the new funds. The war effort, however, made Blue's task difficult. With many medical professionals already engaged in lending care to fighting soldiers, Blue was forced to look for some recruits in places like old-age homes and rehabilitation centers.

    851 New Yorkers die of influenza in a single day. In Philadelphia, the city's death rate for one single week is 700 times higher than normal.

    The crime rate in Chicago drops by 43 percent. Authorities attributed the drop to the toll that influenza was taking on the city's potential lawbreakers.

    On October 19, Dr. C.Y. White announces in Philadelphia that he has developed a vaccine to prevent influenza. Over 10,000 complete series of inoculations were delivered to the Philadelphia Board of Health. Whether or not the so-called vaccine played much of a role in loosening the flu's grip on the city became a matter of great debate.

    October 1918 turns out to be the deadliest month in the nation's history as 195,000 Americans fall victim to influenza.

    Celebrating the end of World War I, 30,000 San Franciscans take to the streets to celebrate. There was much dancing and singing. Everybody wore a face mask.

    Sirens wail on November 21, signaling to San Franciscans that it is safe--and legal--to remove their protective face masks. At that point, 2,122 were dead due to influenza.

    5,000 new cases of influenza are reported in San Francisco.



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