The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Bodies on the Floor

As World War I wound down in the Spring of 1918, soldiers around the world began getting sick with something flu-like. But this form of influenza far outpaced the normal illness, spreading quickly from city to city. Its progression through a single patient was very rapid in many cases. By the time the pandemic ended, the worldwide deaths were estimated at between 50 and 100 billion people.

When this flu took hold, it was so devastating it overwhelmed entire cities and their infrastructures. In Philadelphia, the flu’s progress was aided by a massive parade on September 28, 1918. There had been scattered cases of influenza in the city, but the gathering exposed almost the entire population of the city to the virus. One week later, 1100 residents were diagnosed with influenza.

Historian James Higgins describes a scene from Philadelphia as the flu took hold of the city’s morgues:

Listen to the full episode, “Forgotten Flu: American and the 1918 Pandemic” here.


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