Why New Technology Is A Hard Sell

Let me tell you about the only time in history a new technology has been adopted by almost everyone virtually overnight.

Polio killed 3,145 Americans in 1952. Almost all were kids. It left tens of thousands in wheelchairs or confined to iron lungs, where one described his existence as “walking a thin line between life and death.” The most famous American of the era, Franklin Roosevelt, was a poster-child of its wrath.

Polio’s infamy made its vaccine trials a national suspense. David Oshinsky writes in his book Polio:

A Gallup poll showed that more Americans were aware of the field trials than knew “the full name of the President of the United States.” By one estimate, two-thirds of the nation had already donated money to the March of Dimes by 1954, and seven million people had volunteered their time. Never before had Americans taken such a personal interest in a medical or scientific pursuit.

Tuesday, April 12th, 1955 – the 10-year anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s death – brought the news. Dave Garroway was the first to report on NBC’s Today show. “The vaccine works,” he told the nation. “It is safe, effective, and potent.”

Oshinsky writes:

The suspense was broken. Schoolchildren and factory workers got the word over public address systems. Office workers heard it while huddling around radios. In department stores, courtrooms, and coffee shops, people wept openly with relief. To many, April 12 resembled another V-J Day—the end of a war. “We were safe again,” recalled author Frank Deford.

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