American pilot Lieutenant Stephen W. Thompson of Dayton, Ohio used this early gasmask on February 5, 1918, when he became the first man to down an enemy aircraft while serving the United States military in uniform. Like other gasmasks of its time, this mask contains goggles and an air re-breather that prevented deadly poison gas from affecting the wearer's eyes and lungs. The fear of death by gas attack was a very real concern for World War I aviators. Gasmasks became standard gear for frontline pilots due to the low altitudes at which combat occurred and the possibility of being shot down on a battlefield. The gasmask measures approximately 8" x 6" x 32" (20.32 x 15.24 x 81.28 cm). Courtesy of National Museum of the United States Air Force.
On October 13, 1914, Cleveland, Ohio, resident Garrett Augustus Morgan patented a gasmask. While earlier inventors had developed their own gasmasks, Morgan's was of a far superior quality. Morgan demonstrated his superior design when an explosion of methane gas occurred at the Cleveland Waterworks, trapping eleven workers underground. Two rescue parties failed to return after entering the tunnel where the explosion occurred. Morgan, his brother, and a neighbor descended into the tunnel using Morgan's gasmasks. The three men made four trips into the tunnel. They were able to pull all twenty-one people out of the tunnel, but only two of the victims survived. Having demonstrated the viability of his gasmask, Morgan immediately received orders for his product from fire departments and mine owners across the United States and Europe. The United States Army also utilized a slightly redesigned Morgan gasmask during World War I.