History of PPE: Respirators

Believe it or not animal bladders were first used as respiratory protection. This was used by Roman miners and needed to protect them from inhaling load oxide dust. The man behind the idea? A man called Pliny the Elder. This was in the first century A.D.


Leonardo da Vinci, a more famous name, had the idea to use a wet woven cloth over the nose and mouth for protection against toxic chemicals.


The Haslett Lung protector was invented by a man named Lewis Phectic Haslett. This lung protector had a mouthpiece with two clapper valves – it had a wool filter to exclude dust.


In later centuries the United States first patented an Inhaler or Lung Protector. This was around 1848 and was for the Haslett Lung Protector – it had one-way valves and moistened with sheep wool for dust filtering.


In 1879 the Haslett Lung protector was improved upon by the design by Hutson Hurd’s cup-shaped mask. These were used well into the 1970’s.


There was a period of intense competition between innovative scientific minds to design respirators that could protect against a wider range of pollutants like hazardous gasses.


The first respirator that captured toxic gasses from the air was invented by John Stenhouse who was a Scottish chemist. His aim was specifically to protect first responders and firemen.


John Tyndall, a British physicist added to Stenhouse’s mask an added filter of cotton wool which had been saturated with glycerine, lime and charcoal – this was called the Fireman’s respirator. It was a hood that filtered smoke and gas from the air in 1871. It was only exhibited at a meeting with the Royal Society in London a couple years later in 1874.



That same year Samuel Barton patented a mask that protected against noxious gasses, vapors, smoke and other impurities. This was the first invention to include rubber and a metal hood. It a filter located in the front and two glass eyepieces. The metal canister contained lime, glycerine-soaked cotton wool, and charcoal.


Today respirator technology is becoming sleeker and you will find different forms of respirators. From primitive masks like surgical masks to more complex designs with a higher protection rate


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