Curator's Corner Blog


Gas Masks

With the onset of World War II many world leaders were concerned about chemical warfare becoming a factor in in the war. This fear led to massive manufacturing and distribution of various types of gas masks. The anxiety of chemical warfare came from World War I when tens of thousands of tons of deadly chemicals were used to gain an edge in the fighting. An estimated 1.4 million people were killed by these deadly attacks, many of them being civilians.

British Civilians during World War II

British Civilians during World War II

Once World War II had begun, many countries handed out gas masks to civilians. Every British civilian was issued a gas mask for fear that Germany would perpetrate a chemical attack. Many civilians in countries like France, Australia, and the United States were issued gas masks as well. The gas mask in the picture below was a standard issue civilian gas mask in the United States; many other countries used this model to protect their citizens against chemical attacks, as well.

A MIA2-1-1 Civilian Gas Mask

A MIA2-1-1 Civilian Gas Mask

There is one major problem in gas masks from this time period; many use a filtration system that has asbestos in it. Asbestos is a material that is known to cause mesothelioma and is a very dangerous substance. Ten percent of workers in gas mask facilities during World War II would eventually succumb to mesothelioma. A tragic irony of history, the gas masks designed to save lives could actually take them away.

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