An ECBC 100th Anniversary Feature

One of Edgewood Arsenal’s Early Visitors – Spanish Flu

September 19th, 2017

The Edgewood Arsenal hospital complex where more than 1,300 soldiers and civilians sought treatment at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic in October 1918.

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BBy the fall of 1918, the workers and Soldiers who were busily constructing and operating Edgewood Arsenal’s chemical agent production and shell filling plants knew that the Great War that had consumed Europe for the past four years was nearly over. What they didn’t expect was a flu pandemic that would kill more people than the war itself to arrive in Harford County, Md.

Having first appeared at Fort Riley, Kan. in the spring as a serious, but not deadly, form of the flu, it mutated and reappeared in August in a form so lethal that it infected 500 million people around the world and killed somewhere between 50 million and 100 million. Soldiers concentrated in the trenches in Europe and in the United States at Army installations accelerated the flu’s spread. Installations throughout the U.S. saw major outbreaks, and by late September that included Edgewood Arsenal.

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In October, the installation hospital became packed with more than 1,300 patients. A private stationed at the hospital at the time remarked, “Conditions are bad at the hospital. All the wards are filled so they have placed cots along each side of the long corridors and divided them off into additional wards.” More than 200 Soldiers and civilians at Edgewood Arsenal died from the flu.

The women of the Army Nurse Corps had original been sent to Edgewood Arsenal to be ready for chemical warfare agent casualties. Very few of those ever occurred, but these nurses proved essential in coping with the Spanish flu outbreak. At least three of these nurses died of the flu themselves, having exposed themselves caring for others.

New cases dropped off dramatically through November of 1918 and petered out almost entirely by year’s end. Now, the great pandemic has faded into history, but it still remains by far the deadliest incident to ever occur at Edgewood.

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ECBC is a U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command laboratory and is the U.S. Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and field operations. ECBC has achieved major technological advances for the warfighter and for our national defense, with a long and distinguished history of providing the Armed Forces with quality systems and outstanding customer service. References to commercial products or entities in this article does not constitute endorsement by the U.S. Army of the products or services offered.