Here are some cool facts to break the ice with when you show up at your next party wearing a new gas mask.
Ancient Greece Apparently was a Smelly Place
The idea of covering your mouth and nose to protect yourself from bad smells, or worse, is a pretty old one! In fact, people in ancient Greece were using the common sponge as a gas mask thousands of years ago. It seems as though not everyone followed the Pythagorean Maxim.
At Least They Looked Cool
In the 17th century, “plague doctors” who treated patients afflicted with the bubonic plague wore a special costume. This was designed to protect them from miasma, or “bad air”, which they believed was the cause of the plague. This costume was distinctive for its odd-looking, beak-like mask. The “beak” was filled with sweet-smelling herbs and flowers, and was intended to sweeten the air breathed in by the doctors, thus nullifying the poison.
A Plague Doctor
The First Modern Gas Mask
The first modern gas mask was patented in 1847, by Lewis P. Haslett of Louisville, KY. Its design featured two one-way breathing valves, and a filter. The filter material was simply wool or some other material moistened with water. The mask was effective against solid particles, like dust.
Poison Gas in World War I
Gas masks were first mass-produced for the military in the First World War, after the German Army attacked with poisonous chlorine gas in the Second Battle of Ypres. The effect of the gas was devastating, with 5,000 Allied soldiers killed and 15,000 wounded. Both sides immediately started developing effective gas masks.
Australians wearing gas masks at Ypres in 1917
Don’t Throw Out Those Pits!
The best absorbent of poison gases in World War I was found to be charcoal made from shells and pits of various nuts and fruits like coconuts, chestnuts, and peaches. These materials were collected in public recycling campaigns.
The “Gas” Menagerie
Gas masks were made for dogs and horses during the First World War as well, as these animals were used on or near the front lines.
German horse gas masks being used by transport horses
Make Sure They Fit
During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran. Iran was unprepared for this kind of attack, and needed gas masks in a hurry. The Iranian military then purchased gas masks from South Korea, but were surprised to learn that gas masks designed for East Asian faces did not fit a typical Iranian face. (The filters also only lasted for 15 minutes.)
It’s Probably Better Not to Buy Gas Masks on Sale
When the Iranians found 5,000 East German gas masks at a bargain price, they snapped them up, sight-unseen. Unfortunately, they got what they paid for, as the saying goes. The cheap “gas masks” were just goggles for spray-painting.