This post was written in collaboration with Kevin Quinn, Sarah Lepianka, and Katherine Stinson – Archives Technicians in the Still Photos Branch.
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic, also known as the Spanish Flu, was one of the deadliest events in human history. While fighting between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers raged on in Europe, the disease knew no borders. Conservative estimates place the worldwide death toll at 30 million people, with reported cases in large cities and remote regions of the world alike.*
Traffic cop in New York City wearing the gauze masks. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-7A
Protection against influenza. Men gargling with salt and water after a day working in the War Garden at Camp Dix. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-6
Love Field, Dallas, Texas. Preventative treatment against influenza, spraying the throat. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-1
Photographs held at the National Archives illustrate the pervasiveness of the disease and the unsuccessful attempts to inhibit its spread. All images in this blog come from the American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, which have been digitized in full as part of the Wartime Films Project.
Red Cross workers making anti-influenza masks for soldiers in camp. Boston, Massachusetts. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-26
Precautions taken in Seattle, Washington during the Spanish Influenza epidemic would not permit anyone to ride on the street cars without wearing a mask. The Red Cross made 260,000 masks. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-11
American Red Cross activities in Middletown, Connecticut. Emergency Hospital equipment being inspected by the committee of the Middlesex Chapter. This equipment was sent to Wesleyan University at the outbreak of the Influenza epidemic. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-57
Policemen in Seattle, Washington wearing masks made by the Seattle Chapter of the Red Cross during the influenza epidemic. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-25
Trolley car windows were kept open to prevent the spread of Spanish Influenza which did much to slow up war progress in this country. This photo was taken in Cincinnati. The practice of keeping windows open was nationwide. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-22
Special Hospital for Influenza Epidemic, Emery Hill, Lawrence, Massachusetts. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-21
Emergency hospital at Brookline, Massachusetts to care for influenza cases. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-19
Police court officials of San Francisco holding a session in the open, as a precaution against the spreading influenza epidemic. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-13
Fighting Influenza in Seattle. Flu serum injection. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-9
The 39th Regiment on its way to France marched through the streets of Seattle, Washington. Everyone provided with a mask made by the Seattle Chapter of the Red Cross. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-8
More photos from the Spanish Flu can be viewed on the National Archives Catalog, as well as additional documents on the “Deadly Virus” online exhibit.
*Due to lack of records, estimates of the number of deaths attributed to the flu range anywhere from 30 to 100 million people.