This Montana Farm Boy Became a Scientific Legend, Developing Vaccines to Protect Kids WorldwideBreaking News
tags: public health, Vaccination, medical history
Maurice Hilleman was born into tragedy just over a century ago, far from the places usually thought of as citadels of scientific discovery.
His twin sister died at birth and his mother two days later. Hilleman, the youngest of eight siblings, grew up with his aunt and uncle on a farm outside the small eastern Montana community of Miles City. There he learned to raise chickens — a skill he’d later credit for knowing egg production well enough to help avert an influenza epidemic in the United States. By the time he was set to graduate from Custer County High School in 1937, he had a job lined up at the J.C. Penney store.
That’s where his life might have stayed, had a brother not intervened.
Despite the lingering grip of the Great Depression, the older son convinced the family to find a way to send the teenager to college. He got a scholarship at Montana State University, where he would graduate at the top of his class and go on to study microbiology at the University of Chicago.
Hilleman’s is a classic tale of grit and, ultimately, groundbreaking success, even if most Americans don’t know his name. Working for decades in the pharmaceutical industry, he developed more than 40 vaccines. Nine are part of the 14 essential childhood vaccines — including measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and meningitis — that have protected untold millions of children around the world from devastating diseases and early deaths.
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