Old, Weird Tech: World War II Gas Helmet for Babies Edition

The Royal Air Force developed devices to protect even the littlest Brits from the possibility of chemical warfare during World War II

BabyHelmet_Edit.jpg

The above photo, from Alan Taylor's World War II In Focus series, shows mothers outfitting their children with "baby helmets," devices designed by the Royal Air Force. They were intended to protect the littlest Brits from possible poison gas attacks during the war. As the British geared up for battle, they anticipated the Axis powers would resort to chemical warfare. Poison gas and other chemicals had been common during World War I, leaving the English assuming that the Germans would drop harmful substances on their civilians during air raids.

In preparation for a catastrophe, the Royal Air Force invested a good deal in protecting its citizens. By the outbreak of the war, nearly every adult in England possessed a gas mask and within a month the government had issued respirators to most babies and children as well.

For adults, the government developed standard gas masks: respirators fashioned with tin filters that people were expected to wear around their faces. Babies, however, were much more difficult to equip. Since young children's lungs are not developed enough to draw air through the standard respirator, they needed a special device for protection. For these young citizens, the British government created a "baby helmet," which fully encapsulated the child, as seen above.

baby_helmet.jpg

Made from rubberized fabric surrounding a large window, the helmet engulfed the baby, who received air supply via a manual pump that an adult manned. While the pump fed air in, the helmet had no outlet valve, preventing the poisonous atmosphere from entering. A harness-strap arrangement kept the child inside. It could be adjusted, allowing children up to the age of five to use the contraption. This video shows how it worked:

Explore the entire Old, Weird Tech archive.

Image: Associated Press.

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In