Masks: use and evolution in history.
In the midst of the health crisis caused by COVID-19, where we are, we must protect our health and those around us above all else.
Masks have become our best ally for preventing the spread of this virus, but … What is its origin? Since when are they used?
We tell you how the first masks emerged and their role and evolution throughout history in today’s post.
The masks’ origin dates back to 1346-1353. During this period, the plague took place. The pandemic left almost 25 million deaths worldwide. In the midst of this crisis, the use of the mask and other protection elements arose. Especially the doctors who treated those infected by the plague to avoid the disease’s spread. It was believed that it was spread by the pestilential odors emanating from the bodies.
The bird’s beak mask
This striking mask in the shape of a bird’s beak is one of the oldest preserved. It was made of velvet, leather, and glass eyes.
To avoid contagion and increase their protection level, doctors wore leather gloves, goggles, a wide-brimmed hat, and a huge waxed leather coat that reached his ankles.
The peculiarity of its bird beak shape had several purposes. On the one hand, the long beak prevented the doctor from approaching the infected breath, and on the other hand, this long and hollow area could be filled with aromatic plants to reduce the bad smell.
The mask also included glass eyes to protect the eyes. However, we now know that it could only have been useful in pneumonic plague cases, which is spread as the coronavirus does today, not so in the bubonic case, which was transmitted by the bite of infected fleas from rodents.
This mask’s appearance has been so emblematic and extravagant that, for example, in Italy, its use became popular for costumes as the ‘plague doctor.’
Filtered masks and Gibbs’ first respirator.
Throughout history, the use of masks has been to combat diseases such as plague and as a protection measure against the inhalation of harmful gases. Thus, in 1854 it was discovered that activated carbon could be used as a filter medium for various vapors and was incorporated into the masks and filters of many miners, such as the John Stenhouse mask.
The Gibbs respirator, at the end of the 19th century, this mask was created as a defense against the inhalation of poisonous powders, intended primarily for workers in industries. Although it doesn’t seem like a very complex model, it would be the basis used in the following decades to develop a much more efficient respirator.
The great plague of Manchuria
Between the fall of 1910 and the spring of the following year, a devastating pneumonic plague caused more than 60,000 deaths in this area of northeast China. After discovering that the disease was spread through the air, Dr. Wu Lien-teh developed surgical masks with gauze and cotton layers.
It was an unprecedented plague since, for the first time in Humanity’s history, it was active for more than a century, from 1855 to 1959. The bubonic plague spread across the five continents and became known as the third pandemic in Plague. According to the WHO, the pandemic was considered active until 1960, when deaths worldwide fell to 200 a year.
The mask during World War I
Previously we had talked about the use of filter masks to protect themselves from harmful gases in mining industries. However, it is during World War I when the use and number of gas masks increased considerably because it was the first fight in history in which chemical gases were used as an attack weapon. In this war, the most lethal chemical weapons in history were used experimentally.
These vapors are estimated to have killed around 90,000 people. Both sides had to engineer gas masks to prevent the extermination of their armies.
The mask during the Spanish Flu
The widespread use of the mask occurred for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century. Because the Spanish flu arrived in 1918. The chosen one was the surgical type mask, but inferior in protection to the current one, since most were home-made, with gauze, tape, and other materials.
Both workers and families wore face masks to protect themselves from the flu.
The mask during World War II
Zyklon B, the Nazis’ gas in the death camps to execute the Final Solution, was the deadliest weapon in World War II. Although no chemical weapons were used during the war, they wear an object that the German army soldier carried everywhere.
Wearing masks during the Great London Fog
The “Great Smog” was a period of environmental contamination in December 1952, which covered London’s city. The phenomenon was considered one of the worst environmental impacts until then. It was caused by the use of fossil fuels in industry and transport. The population was plunged under a dense mixture of fog and smoke. Therefore it obliged the British to use cloth masks to avoid inhaling these gases.
Masks in the Cold War and chemical wars
The threat of nuclear war between the West and the USSR was constant in the second half of the 20th century. This is a prototype Soviet-made GP-5 gas mask that was first distributed to the population in 1962. And it’s intention was to protect against particles from radioactivity. They had a 24-hour protective effect.
Masks in the “new normal,” the era of the coronavirus
Masks and various face protection elements such as screens or visors are now part of our lives. It’s becoming a protection mechanism against the spread of COVID-19. Used by health professionals and the staff of establishments, hospitality, and shops, as well as the population daily.
At Sarpimar, we have reusable and sterilizable masks made of high-quality fabric, as well as visors or face protection screens.