Social Effects

The effects of polio can be found throughout American culture: in the lives of people who survived it, through changes to philanthropy, and in new approaches to the design of everyday objects.

Universal Design

Universal Design, also called Design for All, originated in the 1960s and 1970s political movement to ensure equitable use of public space and facilities for all people. Founders Ron Mace and Ruth Lusher, who had had polio, prodded architects, builders, and designers about inclusion and helped to implement federal guidelines.


This image includes several books and pamphlets related to Universal Design, as well as a levered door handle and a vegetable peeler with a textured, contoured grip. The handle and peeler illustrate the universal design principles related to ease of use and intuitive function.

FDR Dime

In 1946, the Mercury dime was replaced by the familiar FDR dime, which honors President Franklin Roosevelt's leadership in combating polio. The coin was designed by John R. Sinnock, chief engraver at the U.S. Mint.

The Director of the U.S. Mint and the superintendent of the Philadelphia mint examine the bronze and plaster casts for the FDR dime, 1946
Courtesy of National Archives

1946 dime with likeness of Franklin D. Roosevelt with the earlier Mercury head dime

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Candy Land and Candy Bars

People who had polio were responsible for some familiar household items, such as Milky Way Bars and the children's game, Candy Land.

Frank C. Mars, seen here in the 1890s, contracted polio as an infant. Under the picture is a Mars Milky Way candy box from around 1930 and a Mars company candy package.
Courtesy of Mars Family

This is the first Candy Land board, from 1949. The game was invented by Eleanor Abbott in 1940. The 30 year old Abbott got the idea during her recuperation from polio, as a way to amuse herself and the children around her.
Courtesy of Hasbro Games

My father, Frank C. Mars, had polio as a baby and he couldn’t walk until he was around twelve years old. The nearest school was a number of miles away and he couldn’t walk there. As a consequence, his mother Elva home-schooled him. This meant long hours in the kitchen where Elva prepared meals for the family and taught Frank his lessons. Elva was a capable candy maker and hand-dipped chocolate for her two sons.
Forrest Mars Sr., 2005

Fund-raising Strategies

Fund-raisers for cancer, heart ailments, AIDS, and other diseases have adopted strategies for mass, grassroots giving that were used by the March of Dimes. The first March of Dimes walkathon, WalkAmerica, to obtain funds for research related to premature births and birth defects, took place in San Antonio, Texas, in 1970.


Finding Clothes that Fit

The physical effects of polio often produce bodily differences that require patience and creativity in everyday activities.

Tobin and Jill Siebers at their wedding in 1981

Tobin Siebers’s red shoes

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No one knows I wear my mother’s red shoe.

Several of my father’s ties have come down to me. One he wore at my sister’s wedding. It is black, medium gray, and silver. When I wear it, it gives me a pleasantly antiquated look, or so I imagine. In my mind’s eye, the tie hangs around my father’s neck, and I wear my father’s tie.

With it I wear my mother’s red shoe.

I have a pin given to my father for working at the same company for thirty years. It is a rectangular gold pin with a diamond chip in a size reserved for attestations of service to men who are important but not too important. The company name is written on the pin. I use it to affect a bit of style, sometimes attaching it to my collar in place of a tie.

No one ever notices the name of the company, but the name will be forever associated in my mind with my father and my life in his house. The company was a paper mill, and it gave off a strong and bitter smell that soaked into his skin and clothes and belongings. He also left me a fine box of professional tools lined with green felt that I keep locked tightly to this day. Whenever I open it, the aroma of the mill tries to escape. I keep the box closed to trap the smell for a million years.

Once I bought two pairs of maroon oxford shoes with tassels. My right foot is shriveled from polio, so I bought a man’s pair for my left foot and a matching woman’s pair for my right. I took the left shoe from the man’s pair and the right shoe from the woman’s pair and threw away the odd set. But the right shoe was too tight because I had no experience buying women’s shoes. Then my mother died, and I had to clean out her closet. There I found a pair of maroon oxford shoes with tassels. They were a larger size than mine and nicely broken in. I put on the right shoe. It felt good and matched my other one. I remembered with a smile that my mother had a thing for red shoes. This is as close as I can get, I thought. I kept her right shoe and threw away the odd set.

No one knows I wear my mother’s red shoe.

Tobin Siebers