American soldiers and kids (photo below) gargling with salt water in an attempt to protect themselves from the Spanish Flu—one of the many questionable “preventative measures” advised to stop the spread of the virus, 1918.
During World War 1, reporting of the Spanish Flu was largely supressed in order to maintain morale amongst the troops. Spain was not involved in the war and had not imposed wartime censorship. As a result, the media was free to report on it and coverage of the virus only increased when King Alfonso XIII came down with a nasty case. The Allies only read in depth accounts from Spanish sources and so they naturally assumed the country was ground zero for the pandemic.
While it’s unlikely to have originated from Spain, scientists are still unsure of its source. Britain, France, Austria, China and the United States have all been hypothesised to have been the potential birthplaces of the virus. The first known case was reported on March 11, 1918 by a soldier in Haskell County, Kansas, USA.
Certain American cities fared better than others depending on how they responded. Philadelphia did not cancel the Liberty Loan Parade, which was attended by about 200,000 people, leading to a widespread outbreak in the city. 72 hours after the parade, all 31 of Philadelphia’s hospitals were completely full and 2,600 people were dead by the end of the week.
St. Louis took the spread of the virus more seriously and their health commissioner, Dr. Max Starkloff knew the importance of avoiding crowds as he had written an editorial about it in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Starkloff moved quickly, shutting down schools, theaters, saloons, sporting events and any large public gatherings. Starkloff received pushback from business owners but he firmly held his ground alongside the mayor and was able to “flatten the curve” and prevent the hospitals from getting overwhelmed. St. Louis had the lowest death rate among the country’s 10 largest cities.