Historic Impact

One of the greatest things about the field of public health is that every finding, awareness campaign, and policy has the potential to positively impact the lives of millions of people around the world. The University of Michigan School of Public Health has been creating a better world through shaping public health practice and research since 1941.

U-M SPH is where Blue Cross Blue Shield was created...where the National Sanitation Foundation was founded...where the first Earth Day was held...where FluMist was invented...and where the chair of our epidemiology department, Thomas Francis, Jr., conducted the largest field trials in history, proving that the Salk polio vaccine was "safe, potent, and effective."

Today, U-M SPH researchers are working in Michigan and around the globe to maximize disease prevention and reduce health disparities, making our planet a healthier place for everyone, no matter where they live.

There's never been a better time to shape the future of public health.

  • 1881

    Victor Clarence Vaughan, later known for his work with yellow fever during the building of the Panama Canal, begins teaching sanitary science at the University of Michigan.
  • 1897

    U-M awards its first Master of Science in hygiene to Edna Day.
  • 1915

    U-M grants its first MS degrees in public health; the first doctor of public health degrees follow in 1916 and the first BS in public health nursing degrees in 1918.
  • 1920

    Regents highlight interdisciplinary nature of public health by moving programs from the Medical School to a new Graduate School Division of Hygiene.
  • 1934

    Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering begin testing of a new vaccine for Pertussis, or Whooping Cough. The vaccine worked, all but ending the scourge of whooping cough deaths. Kendrick and Eldering later combined shots for diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus into the single DPT shot children routinely receive today.
  • 1939

    U-M’s Nathan Sinai develops a voluntary health insurance plan with the Michigan State Medical Society, which later becomes a prototype for Blue Shield.
  • 1941

    After 50 years of the teaching of disease prevention and health promotion at the university, U-M regents establish a School of Public Health.
  • 1943

    School of Public Health building is completed; it provides 63,000 square feet of laboratory, classroom, and administrative space.
  • 1944

    The National Sanitation Foundation is founded at SPH and later becomes NSF International, an independent nonprofit organization, located in Ann Arbor, that certifies products and develops global standards for food, water, air, and consumer goods.
  • 1944

    Thomas Francis Jr., professor and chair, Department of Epidemiology, develops an Influenza vaccine for U.S. Army.
  • 1945

    SPH researchers contribute to groundbreaking water fluoridation studies in Grand Rapids.
  • 1945

    The Bureau of Public Health Economics is established within SPH. Its reference collection becomes the nation's primary source of archival information on community aspects of medical care.
  • 1950

    A teaching program involving social as well as medical aspects of care of workers is established.
  • 1955

    Professor Thomas Francis Jr. concludes the two-year national field trials of the Salk polio vaccine, and on April 12 announces to the world that the vaccine developed by his former student Jonas Salk is “safe, effective, and potent.”
  • 1956

    SPH and U-M faculty launch one of the most important public health studies in the world, the landmark Tecumseh (Michigan) Community Health Study, which transforms our understanding of chronic disease and how to prevent it
  • 1961

    Professor S.J. “Sy” Axelrod expands the SPH program in Medical Care Organization, which soon takes on a central role in educating administrators for the Social Security Administration, established by Congress in 1965.
  • 1965

    The Ford Foundation grant aids in funding a new teaching and research center on population planning.
  • 1966

    U-M Regents transfer a program in Hospital Administration from the School of Business Administration to the School of Public Health, an action that highlights the special character of health-related institutions.
  • 1970

    Professor Morton Hilbert is involved in the planning for what will become Earth Day.
  • 1972

    SPH Professor Marshall H. Becker, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, pioneers a study of how patients’ beliefs affect their willingness to follow medical regimens.
  • 1976

    Following a long tradition of university-governmental cooperation, faculty and students help create a new Michigan State Public Health Code; the code becomes model for other states.
  • 1985

    Congressional testimony by Professor Kenneth Warner helps solidify federal taxation as a smoking disincentive.
  • 1990

    SPH Professor Avedis Donabedian publishes the Seven Pillars of Quality, forming the basis for the statistical model used to rank hospitals and health care facilities.
  • 1992

    With funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, SPH establishes a program in community-based public health (CBPH); SPH becomes a national leader in CBPH, which fosters the creation and use of equal partnerships between community-based organizations, academic institutions, and health agencies to address community health challenges.
  • 1993

    Professor Arnold Monto conducts a major study of the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in the elderly, the findings from which help convince Medicare policymakers to make the flu vaccine a covered benefit.
  • 1996

    Professor Victor Strecher founds the U-M Center for Health Communications Research, a multidisciplinary initiative aimed at creating and implementing more effective health interventions.
  • 1996

    Interdepartmental concentration in Public Health Genetics highlights University of Michigan's eminence in the area.
  • 1998

    The Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health is established. Interdepartmental concentration in Reproductive and Women’s Health enrolls its first cohort of students.
  • 1998

    Vice President Al Gore names SPH one of eight Centers of Excellence in Children’s Environmental Health Research.
  • 1999

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designates SPH one of 23 national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • 2003

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves FluMist, developed at SPH by Professor “John” Hunein Maassab; the world’s only nasal-spray flu vaccine, FluMist is shown to be more effective at protecting children than injections.
  • 2003

    Researchers in the U-M Center for Statistical Genetics develop revolutionary new tools and techniques for identifying and cataloging genetic variants associated with such diseases as diabetes, heart disease, age-related macular degeneration, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder — work that will underpin the development of personalized medicine.
  • 2004

    Center for Risk Science is established to promote informed decision-making about health risks through use of analytical methods and effective communication techniques.
  • 2004

    Research by Professor Robert Wolfe leads to a new, racially nonbiased system for determining matches between kidney donors and transplant candidates.
  • 2005

    SPH launches the U-M Center for Managing Chronic Disease, which helps people and communities control the pain, discomfort, disruption, and costs of chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
  • 2006

    Grand opening of the SPH's Crossroads & Tower complex.
  • 2010

    Comprehensive health care reform is enacted, incorporating research from the U-M-based Center for Value-Based Insurance Design (V-BID) that provides the conceptual foundation and data to allow health plans nationwide to remove barriers for high-value preventive diagnostic and therapeutic medical services.
  • 2011

    An innovative new Health Informatics degree program is established jointly by U-M SPH and the U-M School of Information.
  • 2011

    The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services implement a new dialysis-payment system developed by the U-M Kidney Epidemiology and Cost Center (KECC), which leads to a reduction of approximately $225 million per year in Medicare payments for dialysis.