Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

ARCHIVED - Cool Canada

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Incredible Inventions

Gas Mask

Inventor: Cluny Macpherson (1879-1966)

During the First World War the German army used poison gas for the first time, against Allied troops at Ypres, Belgium in 1915. A soldier's only protection was to breath through a handkerchief or other small piece of fabric soaked in urine.

Photograph of Colonel Doctor Cluny Macpherson, seated on a camel in front of the Sphinx, Egypt, September 1915

Source
Colonel Dr. Cluny Macpherson in Egypt, September 1915

Photograph of the Macpherson gas mask, a canvas hood with glass eyepieces and a metal breathing tube

Source
The Macpherson gas mask

Out of necessity, Doctor Cluny Macpherson, from St. John's, Newfoundland, quickly came up with the idea of a gas mask made of fabric and metal. Using a helmet taken from a captured German prisoner, he added a canvas hood with eyepieces and a breathing tube. The helmet was treated with chemicals that would absorb the chlorine used in the gas attacks. He had invented the world's first gas mask. After a few improvements, Cluny Macpherson's helmet became the first gas mask to be used by the British army.

This Canadian's invention was the most important protective device of the First World War, protecting countless soldiers from blindness, disfigurement or injury to their throats and lungs. Gas masks are worn by millions of soldiers around the world today.

Photograph of a soldier wearing a gas mask and helmet, 1917

Source
Soldier equipped with gas mask, 1917

Photograph of a line of soldiers wearing gas masks, participating in a drill

Source
Gas mask drill, 92nd Highlanders, August 15, 1916

References

Brown, J.J. The Inventors: Great Ideas in Canadian Enterprise. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967.

Dr. Cluny Macpherson fonds. Health Sciences Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
www.med.mun.ca/hslarchive/coll002.htm
(accessed February 11, 2005).