Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Influenza Epidemic of 1918

Influenza Epidemic of 1918 | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


In September 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic which was sweeping the planet reached Wisconsin. During 1918-1919, the flu killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. By the end of 1918, more than 675,000 Americans had died from the flu, most between the ages of 19 and 42. The first cases were reported in southern Wisconsin in September 1918, and by December, influenza had sickened almost 103,000 residents. In Wisconsin, 8,459 residents died during late 1918 and early 1919 (more than were killed in World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined). In December of 1918, the State Board of Health declared that the "Spanish flu" epidemic would "forever be remembered as the most disastrous calamity that has ever been visited upon the people of Wisconsin."

In Wisconsin, health officials concentrated on preventing its spread through public information campaigns. Local authorities printed posters and the State Board of Health issued quarterly bulletins of the progress of the disease, as well as information on how to prevent the spread of disease. View more contemporary historical sources in the World War I section at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

The best overall treatment of the flu epidemic in Wisconsin is "Wisconsin and the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918"  by Steven B. Burg, in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 84, no. 1 (Autumn 2000): 36-56.

Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 84, no. 1 (Autumn 2000): 36-56.

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