Freer Sackler Reopened

Ten Famous People Who Survived the 1918 Flu

The notables who recovered from the pandemic included a pioneer of American animation, world-famous artists and two U.S. presidents

The influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 (Library of Congress)

The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 reached just about every continent throughout the globe. It's perhaps better known as the “Spanish Flu,” a moniker given to the virus in part because Spain's press, unshackled by the wartime restrictions laid upon the news media in other countries, robustly reported on its deadly impact. In the United States, for instance, the Sedition Act of 1918, made it a crime to publish any utterance that would interfere with the war effort.  As the virus spread throughout America, the press was initially non-alarmist.

But the death and illness that followed were unmistakable; the pandemic led to more than 50 million deaths worldwide, and 668,364 in the United States alone. It's estimated that another 25 million in the U.S. suffered from the flu but survived.

These famous notables were among those lucky survivors, forever leaving an indelible contribution to their own national identities.

David Lloyd George


In September 1918, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom encountered the influenza pandemic in Manchester, England, the city of his birth. He survived, and was widely hailed as the man who won the war. In that year, the Liberal coalition which he headed obtained a large majority in Parliament, in an election where women were allowed to vote for the first time.

George was regarded as one of the early 20th century’s most famous radicals, as he openly declared a war on poverty in England. Before serving as Prime Minister, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, where he was responsible for instituting many social reforms, including the introduction of state pensions. 

The United Kingdom market research firm, Ipsos MORI, surveying academicians, consistently list George among the top three Prime Ministers, along with Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece mistakenly said that David Lloyd George was the head of the Labor Party coalition rather than the Liberal coalition. The piece also said that Teddy Roosevelt was FDR’s fifth cousin; in fact, he was a distant relative and Eleanor’s uncle. Smithsonian regrets the errors.


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