Gas Masks: An Overview

The gas mask, a device to help and protect the user from inhaling gas, smoke or other poisonous fumes, have been used for decades by different people and for different reasons. The first use of poison gas in war started in Ypres, France on April 22, 1915 when the German military used chlorine gas to attack French forces, but gas masks have been in existence long before that fateful date.

Miners, firemen and submerged divers all needed for helmets to protect the face from harmful components, provided breathable atmosphere and filtered out potentially deadly substances like smoke and debris. It took a set of inventors producing valuable products to address that need that caused the introduction of the gas mask that went into full scale production immediately after the heinous attack by the Germans against the French.

Prior to 1915, gas masks were manufactured in limited numbers for firefighters, miners and to a lesser degree, deep sea divers. Evidently, the helmet made for deep sea divers had the additional task of keeping water from seeping into the mask, but it performed the same function as other devices.

Some of the masks made for miners needed a similar hose attached to an air apparatus so miners could breathe at dusk where the coal dust was so thick that without using the mask, they would pass out in moments.

The masks made for firefighters were the best of their early prototypes for the modern gas mask as they provided no clean air supply but instead ran the present air supply through a set of filters designed to remove particles from the air and render it safe for human inhalation. This innovation was the most produced version and subsequently was mass produced for the military beginning in 1915 with only minor alterations to the filtration system to account for the elimination from the atmosphere of chlorine gas and after mustard gas.

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