The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Super Sabin!

By Mary Kroeger Vuyk, Sabin Student Assistant

In 1983, Amanda Magary wrote Dr. Sabin to tell him “Your [sic] my hero!”

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Albert Sabin? While many may view Albert Sabin as a super scientist or a super doctor, I’m not entirely sure that many would consider him a Superhero. And yet… that’s exactly how hundreds of thousands of people worldwide viewed him almost 50 years ago.

While I was aware of Dr. Sabin’s contribution, it wasn’t until I began going through the letters sent to Sabin that I started to fully understand the impact that he had on the lives of others. In one letter, Julie Harrison writes, “How much you have enriched the lives of all of us! Your oral vaccine for polio is surely one of the greatest accomplishments. We do thank you; you are truly an American hero.”[1]

Lotta Li Chi shares these sentiments. In a letter dated 3/17/1987, Chi writes,

My late father often spoke of you with admiration and respect. You are one of the noted scientists that I should have as an example, and it is your foot-steps that I ought to follow. I think my late father understood and forgave me for not able to accomplish one-tenth of your achievements; nevertheless you are an inspiration for me, to always try to improve, and to do better.[2]

Not only did adults understand and appreciate the magnitude of his efforts, but children did as well. James Dye, an elementary student at Hays School wrote to Sabin on 5/11/1960. In his letter he wrote, “I think you are a wonderful man and the world needs more of your kind today. I also think your vaccine will be carried all over the world and will save many lives. You will become the savior of millions.”[3]

In a 1984 letter to Dr. Sabin, Thurman Hamlet wrote, “I think you are a national hero because you helped conquer polio.”

Letters such as this make it clear that people of all ages were keenly aware of the significance of Dr. Sabin’s discovery. They understood that this man was worthy of their undying admiration for providing them with the answer to their prayers. For many, he was a trail blazer, a role model, a savior, and a hero.

I’ll admit that I take it for granted that my children will never fall victim to the polio virus. I suspect that I’m not alone on this. But, reading through the letters Dr. Sabin received from countless mothers, fathers, and children, I am reminded that others were not so lucky. Clearly, I owe Dr. Sabin a debt of gratitude. And…while I don’t expect to see any Dr. Sabin Action Figures on store shelves any time soon, he truly was a super hero.

[1] Letter from Julie Harrison to Albert Sabin dated January 29, 1988.
[2] Letter from Lotta Li Chi to Albert Sabin dated March 17, 1987.
[3] Box 3, Folder 57 – Albert B. Sabin Archives: Oral Poliovirus Vaccine – Correspondence – Letters from Hays School students – May 1960.

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $314,258 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize the correspondence and photographs of Dr. Albert B. Sabin. This digitization project has been designated a NEH “We the People” project, an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.