The gas mask is an invention developed to protect individuals from toxins and poisonous substances in the air. Gas masks usually cover the mouth and nose to protect the individual from air hazards, however, most gas masks protect vulnerable tissues such as the eyes. Gas masks have evolved to protect the wearer from both gaseous and particulate toxins. The gas masks are equipped with filters made each to protect against a different toxin or group of toxins. Gas masks do not offer protection from corrosive gases that require the user to wear protective clothing.
History of the gas mask
The ancient Greeks were the first civilization to use the gas mask; they made use of the properties of the ordinary sponge as a primitive gas mask. In Persia, the Banu Musa brothers developed a primitive gas mask in the 9th century, and its main purpose was to offer protection to people working in polluted wells. Alexander von Humboldt, a Prussian mining engineer, developed a primitive respirator to help miners working in deep mines.
Lewis P. Haslett, an American engineer, created a device in 1847 that looked like today’s gas masks. He was the first person in the United States to receive a patent for a gas mask. His invention worked through the use of a light bulb-shaped filter to sift the dust from the inhaled air. The device also had a vent through which air was released into the atmosphere. John Stenhouse, a Scottish chemist, built the first versions of the device following Haslett’s design.
In 1914, Garrett Morgan patented his 1912 invention, the safety hood and Smoke Protector, a device that allowed the user to breathe clean air along the floor and to have wet sponges to improve the quality of the inhaled air. His invention paved the way for the creation of gas masks used during the First World War.
Gas masks in the First World War
When the Germans used poisonous gas in 1915, gas masks became an essential component of the war. Immediately after the use of the gas, the Allied forces made use of cotton wool to protect them from gas. John Scott Haldane improved the filter used by Allied troops when developing the black veil respirator. Cluny MacPherson improved the Haldane device. Because animals were commonly used during World War I, gas masks were also designed to protect dogs and horses.
Gas masks present
The US Army Chemical Warfare Service has worked to develop modern gas masks. They improved the design used during World War I and made it more comfortable for people to wear it. Due to the development of various weapons, in particular biological and chemical weapons, numerous improvements to the gas mask are continually added.
Civil use of gas masks
Governments around the world have ensured that their citizens are adequately trained in the use of gas masks. Posters and radio conferences were a standard method by which adults learned how to use gas masks. Children were taught how to use gas masks at school through exercises. In some schools it was mandatory for students to bring gas masks with them and to wear them during their daily activities.