From the Museum – Infantile Paralysis Wishing Well

Infantile Paralysis Wishing Well (MO 1943.161.5)

In 1921, at the age of 39, Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio and became paralyzed from the waist down. For the rest of his life, FDR was committed to finding a way to rehabilitate himself as well as others afflicted with infantile paralysis. In 1934, Roosevelt began using the occasion of his birthday each year  to encourage Americans to throw “Birthday Balls” to help raise funds for his Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, which facilitated polio rehabilitation at the center he had established in Warm Springs in 1927.

In 1938, FDR created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to support the rehabilitation center at Warm Springs and also to aid the victims of polio throughout the country. To increase awareness of the Foundation’s campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in “a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.”

Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised $18.9 million for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The March of Dimes (as the National Foundation became known) financially supported the research and development of a polio vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1955, eradicating the disease throughout most of the world by the 1960s.

This copper wishing well was a birthday gift to the President that celebrated his philanthropic efforts. The roof of the little well house is inscribed: “Celebrate The President’s Birthday, Fight Infantile Paralysis, ‘Make A Wish, It’s Sure To Come True’.” Its base is inscribed: “To The Greatest Fighter Of All, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Whose Example Has Been An Inspiration To Thousands Of Victims Of This Dreaded Scourge”; “A Gift From Dan Marovich, Director Northern California Committee, To Celebrate The President’s Birthday.”

To learn more about the March of Dimes Foundation, please visit: