Mental Floss

(5) Samuel Morse vs. (12) Jonas Salk

Tournament of Genius

(5) Samuel Morse

When you hear the name Samuel Morse, you probably think of him as the inventor of Morse code and the developer of the electric telegraph. But he was more than just an inventor. Long before Morse ever started dabbling in telegraphy, he was a renowned portrait painter who had such big-name subjects as the hall of Congress and Marquis de Lafayette. (The Encyclopedia Britannica calls Morse's paintings, "some of the finest portraits ever done by an American artist.") Then, in his forties, he helped make telecommunications possible with the telegraph. Not too shabby for a second career.

(12) Jonas Salk

You know what's terrific? Not having polio! For that, we all owe Jonas Salk a big tip of our caps. From 1952 to 1953, a polio outbreak in the U.S. led to 93,000 new cases of the disease. In 1955, Salk's ingenious vaccine, which used an inactivated form of poliovirus to help build antibodies against the disease, hit the market. By 1957, the number of new cases of polio in the U.S. had dropped to 5,600. By 1994, polio was completely eradicated in the Americas. Thank you, Mr. Salk.

The Breakdown

Any time you walk down the street while talking on your phone, you owe both of these guys a debt of gratitude. Morse's stellar paintings coupled with his invention make him an intimidating double threat, but don't count out the man whose vaccine saved countless lives over the last five decades.


[See the whole bracket here.]