The history of poliomyelitis (polio) infections extends into prehistory. Although major polio epidemics were unknown before the 20th century, the disease has caused paralysis and death for much of human history. Over millennia, polio survived quietly as an endemic pathogen until the 1880s when major epidemics began to occur in Europe; soon after, widespread epidemics appeared in the United States.
By 1910, frequent epidemics became regular events throughout the
developed world, primarily in cities during the summer months. At its
peak in the 1940s and 1950s, polio would paralyze or kill over half a
million people worldwide every year.