The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Wisconsin

6 April 2020

The “Spanish Flu” as it was called, first appeared in Europe in late 1917 as WW1 raged.  The symptoms were so unusual that doctors were baffled and misdiagnosed it as dengue, cholera, or typhoid.  What began as a mild infection in January 1918, soon infected thousands of troops and millions of people in Europe.  The epidemic seemed to concentrate in the hospitals where infections quickly spread.  Soldiers and others returning from Europe brought the virus to the United States.  The first cases were reported  in Boston, but soon the virus infected the entire east coast, and rapidly spread as trains transported people across the nation.  Though the symptoms were similar to the flu, doctors were still unsure of its diagnosis. [1]

Emergency hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas (public domain image)

As summer of 1918 approached, the sickness seemed to slow, but made a deadly comeback in the fall of 1918.  Around the world, millions became infected and died, as this second wave was especially virulent and lethal.  In the U.S., an estimated 675,000 people died of the flu between 1918 and 1919.  Those infected suffered with typical flu symptoms of fever, nausea, aches and diarrhea, however, many deteriorated into severe pneumonia, with victims turning blue as their lungs filled with frothy blood, suffocating them to death.[2] 

Here in Wisconsin, the flu hit with a fury.  Newspapers from Janesville to Rhinelander were with filled with articles of daily infections and deaths of residents.  Vaccines were unknown at the time, so many turned to home remedies including chest rubs, boiled red peppers, sliced onions strategically placed around the home to “absorb the virus,” bloodletting and laxatives, but none were effective.[3]   Many families were devastated as one by one, children and parents died of the sickness.  Even today, cemeteries around the state reveal the overwhelming sorrow and sadness of that time as one reads the dates of death on many family graves to be only days apart. 

Next time, “More From Wisconsin”


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22148/

[2] https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4946718

[3] https://www.rd.com/culture/crazy-old-time-flu-remedies/

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History of Influenza in the United States

25 March 2020

The influenza COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak of 2020 has piqued interest the outbreak of 1918-1919 in the U.S. that killed an estimated 675,000 Americans.(1) Annually, the flu virus kills an estimated 30,000 Americans, but every few years, a mutation of the virus causes a huge spike in the annual death rate.(2)

There have been several devastating outbreaks recorded in U.S. history. In the 1680’s and 1690’s, influenza struck Europe and America and people died as if in a plague. In Massachusetts in 1699, Cotton Mather wrote , “The sickness extended to almost all families. Few or none escaped, and many dyed especially in Boston, and some dyed in a strange or unusual manner, in some families all were sick together, in some towns almost all were sick so that it was a time of disease.”(3)

The mid-1800’s saw a resurgence of flu worldwide but the largest pandemic of the 19th century hit the U.S. in 1889-1890. Known as the “Asiatic Flu” or “Russian Flu” the most severe infections were reported from December 1889 through December 1890. The first cases were reported in New York in December 1889, but quickly spread across the nation along the interconnected rail lines. The virus killed nearly 13,000 people in the U.S. but continued to recur for years, but with less virility as the population became immune.(4)

(1) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22148/

(3) The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

(4) https://www.history.com/news/1889-russian-flu-pandemic-in-america

The January 12, 1890, edition of the Paris satirical magazine Le Grelot depicted an unfortunate influenza sufferer bowled along by a parade of doctors, druggists, skeleton musicians and dancing girls representing quinine and antipyrine

File:Everyone has Influenza – The Round of Doctors and Druggists.jpg. (2018, July 6). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 14:49, March 25, 2020 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Everyone_has_Influenza_-_The_Round_of_Doctors_and_Druggists.jpg&oldid=309860644

NEXT TIME:  “The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Wisconsin”

!!! New Page !!!

5 March 2020

Take a look at our new page above titled “Eagle Veterans Memorial.” Enjoy a short video clip of some of the names on bricks that line the walkway.

Click here –

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New Movie With Eagle Roots

1 February 2020

Hollywood comes to Eagle?? EHS member Phil Hall served as Military Adviser for “The Last Full Measure,” based on a true story about one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war. This movie is coming to theaters soon. Congratulation to Phil Hall, a local war hero, for his role in making this movie possible. See trailer below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go8zI2sytEc

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New Year – New Decade

2 January 2020

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