business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

A long ago mentor of mine was fond of stating a simple philosophy: “In times like these, it pays to remember there have always been times like these.” (It wasn’t until Google came along that I found out he was just paraphrasing a Paul Harvey quote.)

You’re probably thinking that this is pointless advice for the current storm of health, economic and societal issues  - if the tempest in which we find ourselves is in many ways unprecedented, how can history tell us anything?

Except, if we think back just a little historically we’ll discover that there was a fairly recent time that makes our greatest current problem, COVID 19, look beatable or at least something we can tame. And in the same way that the Dixie Cup created a killer app in 1918 (as Kevin wrote about yesterday, and elaborates on below), there’s a reason to consider yet another historical example.

It was the 1950s, when the great calamity of polio was finally brought to heel thanks to a vaccine from Jonas Salk. Consider the following discussion of what went on back then and it won’t be hard to imagine you could read this today:

“The newspapers published statistics every week. As of the Fourth of July, newspapers said there were 4,680 cases in 1953 - more than there had been to that date in 1952, reckoned to be the worst epidemic year in medical history, in which the final tally had been 57,628 cases. But none of the numbers were reliable; odd illnesses were added to the total, and mild cases went unreported. Nonetheless, the totals were not the most terrifying thing about polio. What was terrifying was that, like any plague, you never knew where or when it might strike.

“The rules were: Don’t play with new friends, stick with your old friends whose germs you already have; stay away from crowded beaches and pools, especially in August; wash hands before eating; never use another person’s eating utensils or toothbrush or drink out of the same Coke bottle or glass; don’t bite another person’s hands or fingers while playing or (for small children) put another child’s toys in your mouth; don’t pick up anything from the ground, especially around a beach or pool, or swallow any of the water in the pool; don’t have any tooth extractions during the summer; don’t get overtired or strained; if you get a headache, tell your mother.”

Those quotes and the incredible story of Doctors Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin are told in a magnificent essay written for Esquire magazine back in 1983, but it is totally worth reading today both for its timeliness and, oddly, its reassurances for our currently bleak world.

The Esquire piece can be read here.

What is so amazing about the Esquire article is its vivid description of the panicked world that existed for parents and children prior to Salk and how in a few short years the country’s (actually the world’s) most feared disease virtually disappeared. It’s a reminder that even the darkest times come to an end, but not without the benefit of innovative genius and a willingness of the general population to go along with a massive public health program.

We can only hope that we’ll soon be the beneficiary of similar genius, luck and a national willingness to move forward together.  It is, I think, a historical lesson in hope and a reminder that there have always been times like this before.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.