Richest CelebritiesAuthors
Net Worth:
$3 Million
Oct 28, 1914 - Jun 23, 1995 (80 years old)
New York City
Physician, Scientist, Virologist, Medical researcher
United States of America
💰 Compare Jonas Salk's Net Worth

What was Jonas Salk's net worth?

Jonas Salk was an American virologist and medical researcher who had a net worth of $3 million at the time of his death. Jonas Salkwas best known for developing one of the first successful polo vaccines. The vaccine made him an American hero but, as we explain later, it did not make him a fortune. Today he is known as the "father of bio-philosophy". He was the Dr. Anthony Fauci of his time.

Jonas Salk graduated from the New York University School of Medicine and chose to focus on medical research. He spent several years studying flu viruses at the University of Michigan with his mentor Thomas Francis Jr. His field trial set up to test his polio vaccine was the most elaborate program of its kind in history. Salk's work combined research by doctors from around the globe and ultimately produced the first effective vaccine against infantile paralysis.

He founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Salk later focused on searching for a vaccine against HIV. His personal papers are stored in Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego. He was married twice including to Francoise Gilot, one of Pablo Picasso's former mistresses. Jonas Salk passed away on June 23, 1995 at 80 years old.

Early Life and Education

Jonas Salk was the eldest of three brothers and grew up in a Jewish family in New York City. His parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants who ran a garment factory. From a young age, Salk was interested in science and medicine, and he went on to study at City College of New York, where he earned a degree in chemistry in 1934.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Salk went on to attend medical school at New York University, where he received his medical degree in 1939. He went on to complete his residency training in internal medicine and then began to pursue his interest in medical research.

Polio Vaccine Development

In the 1940s and 1950s, polio was one of the most feared diseases in the United States. Salk became interested in developing a vaccine against the disease and began working on the project in the early 1950s. He and his team developed a vaccine made from inactivated poliovirus, which was first tested in 1952.

The following year, a large-scale field trial of the vaccine was conducted. The results of the trial were overwhelmingly positive, with the vaccine showing a 90% effectiveness rate. The vaccine was soon licensed for use in the United States and other countries around the world.

Salk's work was built on the shoulders of many scientists and doctors from around the world. For example, in 1954 two Harvard doctors came up with a safe and effective way of growing the virus on tissue scraps without contaminating themselves. This technique, which Salk relied on, would win the Harvard doctors the 1954 Nobel Prize.

There were essentially two wide-scale polio vaccines. Salk's vaccine used a "killed virus" sample injected intravenously. Albert Sabin created a "live virus" sample that was taken orally. Salk's vaccine was arguably more effective, but it was harder to take and patients could still transmit the virus. Sabin's vaccine was easier to take, especially for children, and killed the virus in the intestine for good for that person. Sabin's vaccine could also be stored indefinitely.

The oral/Sabin version is the most widely used vaccine in the world today because it is easier to administer and cheaper to produce. Since the 1990s, children in the United States have mostly received the Salk version since it comes with lower-risk as it uses killed virus.

Salk tested his vaccine on chimpanzees throughout 1952. He then tested it on around 80 children and staff members of a medical home for crippled children in Pittsburgh.

Salk's vaccine was tested on 1 million children before being approved and licensed for public use (freely) on April 12, 1955. Roughly 10 million children had received the vaccine by the end of 1955. By the end of 1956, 30 million. Over the next several decades, the world would be almost entirely eradicated of Polio. In 1952, around 60,000 infants were afflicted with infantile paralysis. In 1962 there were fewer than 1,000.

Forfeited Fortune

Fortunately for humanity but perhaps unfortunately for Sabin and Salk's heirs, both doctors chose NOT to patent their work. They had the ability to do so but they actively decided to give their work away for free. Had they chosen to patent their work and charge even a modest royalty, both Salk and Sabin would have earned BILLIONS. It's been estimated that Salk would have earned around $10 billion during his lifetime. Sabin would have earned $20+ billion. Salk generated no significant wealth for himself off his vaccine.

(Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Later Life and Legacy


Following the success of the polio vaccine, Salk continued to work on medical research throughout the rest of his career. He established the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 1960, which remains a leading research institution to this day.

Salk received numerous honors and awards throughout his life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. He was also widely recognized as one of the most important medical researchers of the 20th century.

Salk passed away on June 23, 1995, at the age of 80. His legacy as a medical pioneer and humanitarian continues to be felt today, and his work has saved countless lives and improved the health and well-being of millions of people around the world.

All net worths are calculated using data drawn from public sources. When provided, we also incorporate private tips and feedback received from the celebrities or their representatives. While we work diligently to ensure that our numbers are as accurate as possible, unless otherwise indicated they are only estimates. We welcome all corrections and feedback using the button below.
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