The harrowing Ebola outbreak that is overwhelming so many communities in West Africa and has sparked fears that the severe, often fatal illness will make its way to other parts of the globe has also raised the specter of previous pandemics. And of all those awful natural disasters, none was more devastating than the 1918 flu pandemic (the “Spanish Flu”) that infected an estimated half a billion people around the globe and, by most estimates, killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people—at the time, three to five percent of the world’s population.
America didn’t escape the ruin: according to the United States’ National Archives, in one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years. All told, more than 675,000 men, women and children in the U.S. died of the virus.
Here, we remember what the world looked like as the post-World War I pandemic ran its lethal course—before ending, almost as rapidly as it began, in the early summer of 1919.