TWK Povitsky Bottle 1950s

Povitsky Bottle (1950s)









Povitsky Bottle (1950s)


Heritage Room, Sanofi Pasteur Canada


The “Povitsky” culture bottle was a key element in the Canadian technology developed in the early 1950s that enabled the Salk polio vaccine to be produced on a large scale. Pictured is one of several Povitisky bottles retained in the artifact collection of Sanofi Pasteur Canada’s Connaught Campus in Toronto.

In the 1930s, Dr. Olga R. Povitsy of the New York State Department of Health designed the distinctive rectangular bottle that bears her name, originally in a 2-litre size, for cultivating diphtheria toxin for the production of diphtheria toxoid vaccine. Uniquely made of Pyrex by Corning Glass, the Povitisky bottle was able to withstand repeated wet or dry sterilization and could be re-used many times.

In the early 1950s, a larger 5-litre Povitsky bottle proved ideal to Dr. Leone N. Farrell at Connaught Laboratories of the University of Toronto for a method she devised for cultivating the poliovirus on a large scale. Known as the “Toronto Method,” it involved culturing the virus in specially selected cells in the Povitisky bottles using a purely synthetic tissue culture nutrient solution known as “Medium 199,” which was developed at Connaught in the late 1940s. The bottles were placed in a custom-made rocking machine in an incubator room and gently rocked for several days to promote cell growth. The poliovirus would be added to infect, multiply in, and then destroy the cells, leaving the virus suspended in the medium, which was then inactivated to make the final vaccine. The Povitisky bottle based “Toronto Method” remained the standard for polio vaccine production until the late 1970s.

This Povitisky bottle is from the artifacts and archival collection that I manage as a professional medical historian/consultant at the Sanofi Pasteur Canada Connaught Campus, which is near the corner of Steeles Ave. West and Dufferin Street in Toronto.  

Sanofi Pasteur Canada was formerly Connaught Laboratories and a self-supporting part of the University of Toronto from 1914 to 1972. The Salk inactivated polio vaccine, first licensed in 1955, is among the many vaccines that have been developed and produced at Connaught Labs. I did my Ph.D. in History in the early 1990s at the University of Toronto on the history of polio in Canada and my research into the polio vaccine story led me to the Connaught Labs Archives. I was able to access original documents detailing the essential contributions Connaught researchers made to the development of the Salk polio vaccine, particularly the “Toronto Method” of large scale poliovirus cultivation spearheaded by Dr. Leone Farrell that was based on use of the 5-litre Povitsky bottles. The Connaught Archives also has many photos and some archival films from the 1950s of the Povitsky bottles in use.

I later found a collection of Povitsky bottles dating likely from the 1970s stored in a building that was to be torn down and was able to add them to the artifact collection. In 2004-05, during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the licensing of the Salk polio vaccine, I helped develop a travelling exhibit for Sanofi Pasteur about the Canadian polio story and a Povitsky bottle mocked-up as it would have looked during use was included. A few of the bottles were also included among the exhibits designed for the Heritage Room at Sanofi Pasteur Canada, which opened in 2011.


Christopher J. Rutty, Ph.D.
Health Heritage Research Services


Christopher J. Rutty, Ph.D. Health Heritage Research Services , “Povitsky Bottle (1950s).”