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Artifact Friday: Behind the Mask

For months stores have been stocking shelves with masks, costumes, and candy for Halloween!

October is full of events and parties whose key purpose is to haunt and scare those in attendance with frightening costumes and masks.

One of the most hauntingly intriguing artifacts in our collection is in fact, a mask- a World War One gas mask to be exact.

When placed on a face, the gas mask is an intimidating piece of equipment making the figure look much more terrifying than he is.

Picture an army of thousands coming toward you across no man’s land wearing these.

This is the scene of World War One.

The First World War, or the Great War as it became known, was the first war where chemical weaponry was used on a mass scale.

The German military began employing the use of toxic gases such as chlorine and mustard gas.

Chlorine is a poison that when used in substantial amounts and inhaled causes asphyxiation in the individual exposed.

Mustard gas (or mustard sulfur) was different as it caused severe burns on the body and inside the pulmonary areas resulting in long-term illness.

The initial use of the gases caught the Allies off guard and killed thousands before protective gear was developed.

The first gas masks to emerge were cotton/muslin bags soaked in sodium hypo sulfate, water, or glycerin. They typically had two eye holes and one mouth hole.

In April 1916, the small box gas mask (respirator) was introduced becoming standard issue the next year.

When the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) arrived in Europe, they were dangerously short on gas masks. So, they bought every British mask they could and then proceeded to improve the British design.

The improvements included a wider face mask for comfort, the use of rubberized sailcloth, and Triplex for the eyepiece area.

The filter canister was also shortened and widened to allow for a stronger filter force.

The AEF used this version of the gas mask throughout the entirety of the war.

Gas masks became so important that even combat dogs and horses wore custom-made gas masks for their protection. In fact, carrier pigeons even had gas-proof carriers.

While gas masks are still military issue, they have not been used to the scale as they were in World War One.

The gas mask on display at the museum is the U.S. Corrected British small box respirator.

It has a wide, yellow box respirator at the end

which sits in a compartment inside the gas mask bag.

The mask itself is made of rubberized sailcloth with Triplex eye holes and a shortened respirator hose.

The mask would be placed on the face, held in place by straps, and a helmet placed on top.

Then the bag would be worn on the front with easy access to the respirator box sitting inside the bag.

This mask design, although scary to look at, saved many lives; and it was key to Allied military success in World War One.

Our frightful mask is on display in the World War One exhibition in the lobby.

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1 commentaire

Renee Blare
Renee Blare
15 déc. 2023

My grandfather, WA Bolding, was a poison gas specialist during WWI and served in France. It was his job to save the lives of his company from the gassing of the enemy. He was never the same according to my dad after he came home at the end of WWI, injured, but still wanted to serve in WWII and tried to re-enlist. They declined to let him but the AR National Guard took him and he served until the day he died in any and all ways for his country, state, and city, El Dorado. Of course, his name cannot be found on any of the things he did thanks to Murphy but what else should I expect.

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