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Breathe Deep: The Early History of Respiratory Protection

Pliny the Elder, an inventor in the first century A.D., came up with the idea of using an animal bladder to protect Roman miners from inhaling load oxide dust.  His idea is the very first recorded idea for a respirator.


Other early inventors were composed of Leonardo da Vinci who recommended using a wet woven cloth over the face to protect against the toxic chemicals used in chemicals use din chemical warfare.


Lewis Phectic Haslett invented the Haslett Lung protector which allowed a mouthpiece fitted with two clapper valves that utilized a wool filter to keep out dust.


Expanding on the need for industrial worker’s lungs being protected, inventors offered other solution in the centuries that followed.  The first U.S. patent, US 6529, for an “Inhaler or Lung Protector” was recorded in 1848 and was for the “Haslett Lung Protector” which utilized one-way valves moistened with sheep wool to filter dust.


Inventions were always improving.  In 1879, Hutson Hurd's design improved on the design of the Haslett Lung protector and invented the design of the cup-shaped mask.  The Hutson Hurd’s H.S. Cover Company manufactured these cup-shaped masks well into the 1970s.

As even more, innovative scientific minds gained interest in air purifying devices, a race occurred to develop respirators that could protect against a broader range of air pollutants, such as hazardous gases.


A Scottish chemist, John Stenhouse, decided to use charcoal in a wide variety of air-purifying devices.  He invented the first respirator that captured toxic gases from the air.  He especially wanted John Stenhouse’s mask, Public Domain to protect firemen and first responders.


British physicist John Tyndall took Stenhouse’s mask, added a filter of cotton wool saturated with lime, glycerin, and charcoal, and invented a ‘fireman’s respirator,’ a hood that filtered smoke and gas from air, in 1871; Tyndall exhibited this respirator at a meeting of the Royal Society in London in 1874.


Also in 1874, Samuel Barton patented a device that ‘permitted respiration in places where the atmosphere is charged with noxious gases, or vapors, smoke, or other impurities.’  The first to include rubber and a metal hood structure, the Samuel Barton Respirator had a filter located in front and two eyepieces made of glass. The metal canister design contained lime, glycerin-soaked cotton wool, and charcoal.


Short history from before the 20th century - we have come a long way and then back again...


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