Philadelphia Flu Epidemic – 9/28/1918

US History |

On September 28th of 1918, the Liberty Loan parade was held in the city of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, such a large gathering of people happened at the same time the devastating “Spanish Flu” virus was making its deadly way around the world. 

What eventually became known as the 1918 Flu Pandemic lasted from January of 1918 until December of 1920. The virus was an unusually fatal form of influenza that killed people who were in their prime, as opposed to mostly people with weaker immune systems, like infants and the elderly, and those who were already ill. Recent research on frozen bodies has shown that the virus caused, specifically, an overreaction of the immune system. This is why healthy adults with strong immune systems were struck so violently, while small children and elderly people suffered fewer deaths.

Influenza, which attacks the respiratory system, is a highly contagious disease. This particular epidemic infected 500 million people all around the world. Anywhere from 50 to 100 million people died swiftly from this flu. At the time, the fatalities represented between 3 and 5 percent of the world's entire population, causing human life expectancy of the early 20th century to drop by about twelve years. What's more, the Spanish flu was a fast acting virus. A person could wake up feeling ill in the morning and be dead by that same evening.

The Flu Pandemic of 1918 was one of the worst natural disasters in human history. Famous people who died from the Spanish flu included Canadian hockey player Hamby Shore (age 32), silent film actor Harold Lockwood (age 31), auto manufacturers Horace and John Dodge (ages 52 and 56), and Black Shawl (age 84), who was the widow of Lakota Chief Crazy Horse.

The flu was first observed in Haskell County, Kansas. Evidence suggests that it spread from farm animals to humans, then slowly throughout the United States, and then traveled to Europe by way of about 200,000 American soldiers who went there to fight in the First World War. The flu swiftly overtook Europe. Its initial attack was in Spain, where it killed so many people that it became known as the “Spanish Flu” all over the world.

In the United States, Philadelphia was probably the worst affected city, probably because of the Liberty Loan parade. The entire city was quarantined and 12,000 people who had lived there died. Meanwhile, about another 12,000 U.S. Soldiers in Massachusetts came down with the Spanish flu, and hundreds of these soldiers were soon reported dead. Throughout the United States, roughly 1 out of 200 people died from the Spanish flu virus that struck between 1918 and 1920. In the rest of the world, the fatalities were even worse. In Latin America, 1 in 100 people died. In Africa and Asia, the death toll was even higher.

In the end, the Spanish Flu had won the war. More people were dead from the Spanish flu than in all the battles of World War I combined. 

Share On Facebook

Nancy Reyes

Senior Writer

One of our top senior writers, Nancy came to us wanting to break away from the politics that comes with major news corporations. She leads our team of historical writers in creating the best engaging content out there that keeps our readers coming back for more. She is an enthusiast of all things medieval and has been a member of her renaissance fair group for 15 years. She received her degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California and hopes to one day travel the world.