Worried about a Pandemic? Consider the Spanish Influena of 1918-1919

Worried About a Pandemic? Consider the Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919


In the Spring of 1918, America was busy preparing young men to go fight in World War I. The government hired “three-minute men” to sell the war to the American public and Hollywood movie stars were trying to convince Americans to buy Liberty Bonds. In Kansas, a new virus was beginning to attack young recruits.

Fundraising postcard for the Red Cross. Photo, print, drawing. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

The Spanish Influenza, as it became known, traveled with those soldiers to eastern embarkation ports and eventually to France where it would flourish and spread across Europe. It would kill 50 million people worldwide. In the United States it would infect thousands and kill 675,000 Americans, five times the number of Americans killed in World War I. It went by many names in the United States, Influenza, the Grippe, The Spanish Flu, and sometimes was even described as cerebrospinal meningitis.[1] By Fall, 1918, newspapers such as Flagstaff’s Coconino Sun were advertising the new disease as very contagious with symptom that included a "fever, pains in the head, eyes, ears, back or other partsof the obdy, and feeling of severe sickness." The paper also ran an article that erroneously assured the Flagstaff public that the flu that was currently spreading through the community was a milder form of the Spanish Flu.

image of an article about the flu from the Coconino sun
Articles from Flagstaff, Arizonia Newspaper,Coconino Sun. An article detailing the symptoms of the flu is placed next to a paragraph falsely assuring the public that the flu currently hitting Flagstaff is not the same as the Spanish Flu. October 11, 1918.
Warning printed in the Fernandina News-Record, Florida, October 18, 1918.

It was not the actual virus that killed you; it was the complications that came with the disease. Many victims turned “bluish-black” as their bodies filled with fluids. Patients’ temperatures ranged from 104-106 degrees while their lungs filled with fluids, leading to pneumonia. In some cases patients bled from their nose and eyes. With no anti-viral drugs or antibiotics, little could be done to stop the flu from becoming full-blown bacterial pneumonia. How this disease mutated, spread, and affected Americans and American society is the focus of this website. Using images gathered from the National Archives we can see how Americans experienced, fought, and endured during a terrifying pandemic in which they were ill-prepared and ill-equipped to defeat.


Author has restored and enhanced images.

1. Laden, Lisa. "We Heard the Bells: The Influenza of 1918." Flu.Gov. December 4, 2009. http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/weheardthebells/script_120709.html (accessed September 24, 2014).
2. The Coconino Sun. ""Spanish Influenza," "Three-day Fever," and "The Flu"." Library of Congress. October 11, 1918. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062055/1918-10-11/ed-1/seq-1/ (accessed November 2, 2014).