The Influenza Masks of 1918

As people worldwide adapt to living with the threat of COVID-19, and especially as the rate of new cases continues to grow in the United States, the wearing of face masks remains widely recommended, and in many places, mandatory. A century ago, an outbreak of influenza spread rapidly across the world, killing more than 50 million—and possibly as many as 100 million—people within 15 months. The scale, impact, and nature of the disease back then were all very different from today’s pandemic—but the act of wearing a face covering to prevent further contagion became widely adopted, then as now. While some of the masks were made of improper material or were not used properly, most provided some level of protection against transmission by blocking droplets from the nose and mouth. Below, a collection of images from a century ago of people doing their best to keep others and themselves safe.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Fatos Bytyci / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: Airplane House, Mayfly Swarm, Cool Buffalo

    Historic-battle reenactments in England, the reemergence of a flooded village in Portugal, a beagle-rescue operation in Virginia, sledding at a mountain ski resort in Lesotho, and much more

  • © Tomasz Szpila / Nature TTL

    Winners of the Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2022

    Some of the best images from a competition celebrating the natural world

  • Marco Di Marco / AP

    A New Eruption of Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall Volcano

    A fissure opened on August 3, and thousands have since made the long trek to the site to witness the new eruption.

  • NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

    Photos of the Week: Knife Angel, Paris Henge, Flamingo Tagging

    Scenes from the Commonwealth Games in England, a new sinkhole in Chile, Beluga whales near Svalbard, an air show above the Giza Pyramids, and much more