Breakouts of a disease very much like polio have been known since prehistory, according to the National Museum of American History. It took until 1789 for Michael Underwood, a British physician, to give the world a clinical description of polio.
In 1840, Jacob Heine, a German physician, gave the first medical description of polio and how it involved the spinal cord, says the National Museum of American History. In 1894, 132 cases of polio broke out in Vermont. There was another substantial polio epidemic in the United States in 1916.
Polio was first identified as being caused by a virus in 1908 by Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper, says the National Museum of American History. By 1929, Louis Shaw and Philip Drinker have created the iron lung, which helped patients whose lungs were paralyzed by polio to breathe. In the 1930s, two of the three strains of polio were discovered and the first filters were developed that were able to trap the virus.
Between 1947 and 1950, Dr. Jonas Salk worked on a project to type polio, claims the National Museum of American History. By 1953, he and his colleagues had developed a safe vaccine made from killed polio virus. Between 1955 and 1957, polio cases fell between 85 and 90 percent. In the Soviet Union, Albert Sabin developed a vaccine made of live-but-weakened virus between 1957 and 1959, and it came to replace the Salk vaccine. In 1981, the genome of the polio virus was sequenced.