March of Dimes

  • Medicine & Health
  • 1938

The March of Dimes is one of the most popular and successful charity campaigns in American history. Founded in 1938 by polio victim Franklin Roosevelt as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the foundation existed to provide care for the afflicted and find a polio vaccine. Dubbed the March of Dimes by entertainer Eddie Cantor, the organization spurred Americans to give in a way that forever changed popular culture. Collection cans for the March of Dimes sat on diner countertops, at movie theaters, and in local schools.

In 1948, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, substantially supported by the foundation (see 1952 entry), heralded one of the greatest public-health discoveries in American history. By that time, the campaign had raised $67 million, the equivalent of $536 million today. It was the largest amount of money raised by any health charity, or almost any other kind of nonprofit.

Having played a major role in eliminating the mass killer and crippler polio, the March of Dimes shifted its focus to birth defects and disorders associated with premature birth. It continues to be one of the largest charity fundraisers in the United States.

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