1976: Deadly Legionnaires' Disease Crashes The Bicentennial Party

By Karen Harris
Left: Members of the Pennsylvania American Legion while waiting to testify before a special congressional inquiry into the cause of the Mysterious Legionnaires Disease. Right: Lung tissue during legionellosis. Sources: Getty Images; Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1976, a deadly epidemic made headlines: Legionnaires' Disease. Interrupting the constant and joyful news coverage of America’s Bicentennial celebrations, headlines across the country announced that a mysterious illness has swept through an American Legion convention in Philadelphia, killing 29 people and sickening another 182. As the Center for Disease Control investigated the case, people worried that a new strain of flu was coming. What they found wasn’t the flu, but a newly-identified respiratory disease that became known as Legionnaires’ Disease.