Banner of of three women in laboratory, Fight TB banner, Whooping Cough Quarantine Sign, bottle of Polio vaccine, and woman sterilizing glassware

Infectious Disease History

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


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

The Antibody Initiative: Eradicating Smallpox

The peace gun

12 kids who helped a doubting public accept the smallpox vaccine


Anti-Diphtheritic Serum

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

The Antibody Initiative: Diphtheria

How horses helped cure diphtheria



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

The Antibody Initiative: Polio

Whatever Happened to Polio?


Anti-Tetanic Serum

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

The Antibody Initiative: Battling Tetanus

When real patriots got Tetanus


Cough and La Grippe Combination box logo

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

The Antibody Initiative: Influenza

This will NOT protect you from swine flu

The FLU is back: Mind your H’s and N’s


Rabies Vac-Trap


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

The Antibody Initiative: Rabies

Sneaky 1960s rabies prevention inventions


Blue Sputum Flask

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

The Antibody Initiative: Tuberculosis

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)


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

The Antibody Initiative: Suppressing Whooping Cough

Plague, scarlet fever, pneumonia, meningitis, and others

Scarlet Fever Antitoxin

Explore vaccines and serums developed to fight infectious diseases.

The Antibody Initiative: Misc Disease

Plague hits Mouse Town, USA!

Infectious Disease and Animals

Container of Sheridan’s Cavalry Condition Powder

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

The Antibody Initiative: Veterinary

Healthy hogs for a healthy nation

Diagnosing Disease

The Germ of Gonorrhea Slide

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

The Antibody Initiative: Diagnostics

Antibodies are a girl's best friend

New York City Public Health Collections

Bent Angle Smith Tube from the New York City Department of Health and Hygiene

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

The Antibody Initiative: NYC Health Dept

Immune System Animations and Explanations

Tactile Model of the Polio Virus

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

The Antibody Initiative: What is an Antibody

Hygiene and Disease Control

Block of Synol Soap

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

Personal Care Products/Bathing

Bacteria, Beer, and Health

Pig and Terramycin soluble powder

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

From DNA to Beer