This Is How Much Jonas Salk Was Worth When He Died

Jonas Salk is perhaps one of the world's most famous scientists. As a virologist and medical researcher, Dr. Salk spent most of his career trying to find a cure for polio, which was a devastating and often disabling childhood illness that affected over 15,000 Americans per year at its peak in the 1950s, per the CDC.

In 1954, while working as the director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Dr. Salk was able to successfully manufacture a vaccine using "killed" polio cells. He believed the "killed virus" samples were as effective as immunizing the patient with a live virus, but posed less risk that the vaccinated individual would become infected with the disease, according to The Salk Institute. The following year, the vaccine was declared safe and effective, and within less than a decade, the number of polio cases in the United States had dropped to under 1,000. 

Dr. Salk's valuable work did provide him with some comfortable monetary compensation. He was worth an estimated $3 million at the time of his death in 1995, according to Celebrity Net Worth. However, none of his wealth came from his most famous discovery.

Salk never made any money from the polio vaccine

Dr. Salk chose never to patent his polio vaccine. He believed the lifesaving vaccine should be widely distributed to everyone, so he wanted to ensure the vaccine was freely available for anyone to receive. As a result, Salk made no profit from his most famous scientific discovery. His net worth likely would have been much higher, had he chosen to patent the polio vaccine. According to calculations made by Forbes, Dr. Salk sacrificed the opportunity to become around $7 billion richer, had he chosen to patent his work.

Instead, Dr. Salk opened the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 1963. He spent his later years working towards developing an AIDS vaccine, as well as serving as a vocal and influential advocate for vaccinations, until his death. By the time he died, at the age of 80, over 30 million children had received the polio vaccine, and the disease had been all but eradicated as a childhood illness in the United States, per the CDC.