His successful cultivation of the poliomyelitis virus in laboratory tissue cultures led to the development of the polio vaccine.
After being educated at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Harvard, he served in WWII and joined the Harvard faculty.
He won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1954 for his work on polio, and in addition researched several other well-known viruses.
He had two sons and two daughters with his wife, Kathleen Fahey.
Before his vaccine, breakouts of polio affected thousands, including future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who spent the latter part of his life in a wheelchair.