On January 3, 1938, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was officially incorporated. The organization, which was run by Basil O’Conner, was based on an earlier effort run by O’Conner and Roosevelt, except now the organization was more effective because of the presidential backing. [Roosevelt actually contracted the disease as an adult, but the majority of polio victims were children.]
Today, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis is known by what was its catch-phrase: “The March of Dimes,” a term that was coined by famous Jewish performer and radio star Eddie Cantor. The March of Dimes was a play on the pre-movie newsreels titled The March of Time. Once the March of Dimes promotional theme was agreed upon, Cantor used his influence with radio broadcasters to encourage them each to offer a 30 second spot promoting the March of Dimes the week before President Roosevelt’s annual Birthday Ball. The March of Dimes was a call for people, children in particular, to send in one dime to support the organization. The first two days, only $17.50 came in. By the end of the week, however, $268,000 had been raised.
Over the years, Cantor’s March of Dimes promotion raised millions in the fight against polio. When the vaccines of Jewish scientists Jonas Salk (1955) and Albert Sabin (1962) finally conquered the illness, the organization changed its focus to general birth defects. In 1979, the Foundation officially changed its name to The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and in 2007 it became simply, The March of Dimes.
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