Medical Advancements in the 1950s

by admin - November 20th, 2017

By Amanda Babbitt

The 1950s were an important time for the advancement of medicine. Many large accomplishments took place, many of them keeping people alive. President Truman supported health care legislation in his Fair Deal. “Truman called for more medical facilities, both to expand health care and to train new physicians, dentists, and nurses,” (Dunnar 32-33). Truman also supported national health insurance. This was a very controversial part of his plan which was attacked by the American Medical Association.

One of the widely known about things was the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. The polio epidemic had been sweeping the United States affecting so many people. Polio is a virus that is able to invade the person’s brain and spinal cord causing paralysis. Jonas Salk was able to develop an injected vaccine for this virus. Although it was not completely effective it still played a large role in the beginning of wiping out this disease. Albert Sabin was able to develop an oral polio vaccine that was much more effective and more convenient but the later half of the decade was spent perfecting and testing it before it was put into use.

During this decade, huge changes in cardiology were put into place. The first open heart surgery took place in 1954. This was able to happen because “heart surgeons could stop the blood flow within the human body, allowing them to repair faulty hearts,” (The 1950s Medicine and Health: Overview). Now that open heart surgeries were now possible, heart problems that had once lead to death were sometimes able to be fixed.

During the 1950s the first birth control pill for women was tested widely. This pill called Enovid, was tested on women mainly in Puerto Rico. Although it took many people and a long process of development, Gregory Pincus and Margaret Sanger were the first to create the product in Worcester, Ma. In 1957 Enovid was “put on the market for the treatment of gynecological disorders but was used off-label for birth control,” (Buttar, Seward) until 1960 when it was approved by the FDA to be used to prevent pregnancy.

This is a photo of the Enovid pills. Unlike birth control pills today that come in a pack with pills separated out by day, these came in a normal pill bottle

Something that is extremely useful for many people to know today was discovered in the 1950s. Medical professionals found out that smoking cigarettes is remarkably detrimental to one’s health. Cigarettes are specifically horrible for a person’s lungs. They are a large reason for the development of lung cancer. A large percent of the population today knows that cigarettes are very unhealthy and are sometimes the reason some people die. People know this today because of the research and discoveries made in the 1950s.

Many major advances in the medical field are made every decade. A few large ones were made in the 1950s and it is clear to see that they had a huge impact on lives at the time and also lives now almost 70 years later. To see more things that were discovered or developed in the 50s or other decades this timeline shows many important advances.

Works Cited

Buttar, Aliya,, Seward, Sheraden, “Enovid: The First Hormonal Birth Control Pill”. Embryo Project Encyclopedia (2009-01-20). ISSN: 1940-5030

Dunar, Andrew J. America in the Fifties. Syracuse University Press, 2006.

“Medicine and Madison Avenue.” Duke Digital Collections, Duke University Libraries,

“The 1950s Medicine and Health: Overview.” UXL American Decades, edited by Julie L. Carnagie, et al., vol. 6: 1950-1959, UXL, 2003, pp. 116-117. U.S. History in Context

4 Responses to “Medical Advancements in the 1950s”

  1. Sophia Kontoes says:

    We can thank the medical professionals in the 1950s for experimenting with open heart surgery, creating vaccines, and developing birth control. We have now almost perfected all of the things listed. In 1954, the first successful kidney transplant took place. Since the organ donor and receiver were twins, the kidney was not rejected from the body. Without the transplant, the twin would have died. That was a big break through in the fifties, but now kidney transplants are more common and pretty much perfected. Its important to remember the advancements in medicine in the fifties to see how far we have come.

  2. Matas Buivydas says:


    I wouldn’t necessarily say we perfected all the things listed ie. open heart surgery, creation of vaccines, or birth control, and of course many others. Science and the relation to the medical advancements are always expanding, requiring continuous innovation and adaptation. For instance, although vaccines have advanced in the 1950’s, giving us the ability to be disease free now – super-bugs can still be created and there are possibly little to no solutions for that issue. Procedures may be successful in the past, but it doesn’t mean they are perfect. Medical scientists are continuing their research and methods of how to remove certain organs from the body in a more efficient manner. I would say the 1950’s only introduced the path for medical advancement, that is far from being perfect or entirely 100% successful.

  3. Erin McCormack says:

    I found this post very interesting, especially since my major is occupational therapy which is in the medical field. I never knew that most of the medical advancements that we have today derived from those in the 1950s, and that they found out that cigarettes were detrimental to your health. Now it is such a widely accepted fact that they cause serious health issues, but in the 1950s many people smoked them and were only starting to realize and find out about the consequences. Additionally, I was glad that you discussed the creation of the polio vaccination by Jonas Salk because when I shadowed an OT at the Spaulding Outpatient Rehab Center in Framingham, they treat post-polio patients and are one of the last facilities that treats these kinds of patients. We do not hear of anyone that contracts the virus and that is largely thankful to Salk’s vaccination.

  4. Kelsea Blair says:

    Im glad you did this topic because I was going to choose this topic as well until I chose to do the Interstate Highway instead because the 50’s surprisingly had a lot of important and interesting medical advancements made during the decade. Its also interesting to read about the first birth control because its so close to us being created in Worcester. Thats such a crucial part of women’s everyday lives and so many women rely heavily on birth control for various reasons.