Publication Date

May 4, 2009

Spanish Flu 1918 Naval Aircraft FactoryIn light of the recent swine flu pandemic, it seems timely to look back at the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, often referred to as the Great Pandemic. The deadly virus hit the world at a vulnerable time, as World War I had just come to a close in the early fall of 1918. Unfortunately, Allied soldiers caught the virus in the infamous European trenches and brought it back to their home countries as they celebrated the close of the Great War with their loved ones.

Claiming millions of lives, the Great Pandemic devastated societies around the world. Listed below are a few web sites on the 1918 flu pandemic, organized into the following categories: general interest, lesson plans, photographs, newspaper clippings, and online videos.

General Interest
National Archives
True or false: The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people than died in World War I?
Believe it or not, this statement is true. The pandemic killed 50 million people world wide, far more than the 16 million claimed by the first World War. The National Archives created a special online exhibit for the Great Pandemic, complete with letters, telegrams, and photographs that tell the somber story of this infamous virus.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Step back to into life in 1918 with snapshots of the world, facts about the nation’s health, information on the medical care system, and the background on the public health service. Learn the gruesome details of the virus, read firsthand accounts, understand how the medical world fought back, and discover the legacy the pandemic left behind. Users can explore how the pandemic affected individual states and read biographies of notable doctors and scientists who played pivotal roles warding off the virus. Additionally, peruse the site’s gallery, which includes everything from ads and posters, to newspapers and telegrams, to cartoons and illustrations.

Navy Department Library
This site’s resources include a bibliography of historical and contemporary articles on the pandemic of 1918 through 1920, some of which are available online; a list of medical terms centering on the influenza; honorees awarded the Navy Cross and a Letter of Commendation for their services during the pandemic; and a collection of photographs from the period.

PanFlu Storybook
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a forum for survivors from both the 1918 and 1957 pandemics to share their stories. Featured stories fall into one of the following categories (taken directly from site):

The Pandemic’s Impact on London
The infamous 1918 pandemic wreaked havoc in Europe as much as it did America. This special online exhibit traces the effects of the Spanish flu pandemic on London society, featuring commentary, photographs, and letters detailing the viral era.

Lesson Plans
National Geographic Xpeditions
National Geographic offers a lesson plan entitled, Diffusion of Disease: The Flu Pandemic of 1918-19, applicable to grades 9 through 12. “This lesson will focus on the spatial diffusion of the influenza (flu) pandemic of 1918-19. Spatial diffusion is the geographic spread of ideas, innovations, or phenomena (such as disease).”

The Pandemic in Photographs
LIFE magazine has supplied generations of heartfelt, raw photographs documenting American life, such as during the 1918 pandemic. Explore their online gallery featuring 20 photographs that show the gravity of the pandemic on society.

National Museum of Health and Medicine
Similar to the LIFE magazine site, the National Museum of Health and Medicine offers an online gallery of photographs encapsulating the pandemic, primarily centering on the military. Additionally, the site posts medical data, such as graphs reporting age distribution of deaths during the influenza and mortality breakdowns in each city, as well as medical photographs of lungs infected with the virus.

New York Times clippings
Links to PDFs of articles from the New York Times

That ol’ Flu
The 1918 Spanish flu was utterly unstoppable, stretching its infectious fingers into the most rural parts of the country, including the east Tennessee mountains.

Viruses: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918
From the site, How Stuff Works, this video supplies a strong overview of the 1918 pandemic, both medically and historically.

Masks for Protection Against Pandemic Flu 1918
1918 was a bittersweet time for America: people were celebrating the end of the Great War, while wearing masks to ward off the Great Pandemic.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.