After terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and subsequent anthrax attacks through the mail, homeland security and personal safety became a national priority. Just as the public debated the advisability of individual bomb shelters during the Cold War, many now wondered whether individual ownership of gas masks would offer protection from chemical warfare.
Dramatic images in our photograph collection caught our attention as the topic engaged public conversation.
The history of protective masks dates back to the 16th century. Historic records show that Leonardo Da Vinci suggested that a fine cloth dipped in water could protect sailors from a toxic powder weapon he had designed.
When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the German High Command and the Allies used five kinds of poisonous gases. More than 30 percent, or 70,552, of the Americans wounded in World War I were gas casualties. Gas warfare pushed the development of protective masks from Great Britain’s initial use of a piece of cloth tied over the face to those with more sophisticated construction and chemical absorbents.