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1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

Article about: Glad to see your here Dan, fantastic and well illustrated information as always Thanks Danny

  1. #1

    Default 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Hey guys, this will be my first post. I'm a gas mask collector of a few years now. Danny(GasMasksUK) suggested I join here and am pretty much just getting around to it. I searched to see if something like this has been posted and did not find anything. If it has already been addressed, my apologies.

    Here I have two variations of the Model 1917 American Small Box Respirator(A.S.B.R.). This mask was an attempt to create a service respirator for US troops for America's late entry into the war. The successful respirator designs of Great Britain, France and Germany were all considered for design reference. The British Small Box was ultimately chosen. It is important to note that the German GM15 Gummischutzmaske did influence design decisions for the USN Mk.I.

    In early/mid 1917, the project was contracted out to U.S. Bureau of Mines who had only begun experimentation with respirators for industrial hazards earlier that year. That was a colossal undertaking. The mask was designed and constructed with pioneering understanding of defense respirator technology and very little experience with chemical warfare agents.

    The production numbers were met; however, not to sufficient standards. The facepiece and filter proved ineffective against aerosol agents. British Small Box Respirators were purchased in limited quantity for American use to fill the void and until an improved design could be perfected. This later design would be the Corrected English Model(C.E.M.), a wildly successful respirator made in the millions and used throughout to the end of the war. In the mean time, the failed ASBR masks were used for training purposes. The filter tops were painted red and the bags marked accordingly.

    From my interpretation, and please if anybody knows just give a shout, the initial version with the celluloid lenses and tied on frames(reminiscent of the BSBR) was one of the first production runs and the later variant with the CEM style glass lenses was a version produced solely as a training mask under the same tooling .

    Here is the first version with celluloid lenses with lens frames secured with cording, very similar to the British Small Box:

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    Here is the flapper/flipper valve that has unfortunately dried and broken off along the way. Luckily it stayed with the mask. This is the only valve I have seen on one of these. The valve is rather large so I threw in a USD and GBP for reference:

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    Here is the later variant with the glass lenses and CEM style frames:

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    A view of the inside of the later mask. It is possible that the earlier variant has a different mouthpiece, though I am unable to tell as the earlier facepiece has folded and hardened:

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    Here is a comparison of filters. Shown from left is the copperish British Small Box Respirator filter, then the large ASBR filter, and then the later CEM 'H type' filter(horribly rusted, but just a spare I have):

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    And finally a comparison between the BSBR carrier on the left, ASBR carrier in the center, and CEM carrier on the right. The ASBR bag is more similar to the BSBR bag, possessing the same type buckles and hardware, only with the different type button snaps as seen on the later US carriers:

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    Thank you guys for taking the time to give this a look.

    Regards,
    Dan

  2. #2

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Welcome to the Forums, Dan! A shame, these old masks just dry up and crumble away to bits, and there's little to nothing a person can do to save them. Years ago, we used to try everything under the sun that we could think of to rejuvenate the rubber linings and flaps, but nothing ever worked. When one thinks of the History these masks have seen, it's more the pity. These masks were about the only gas masks that actually were Used and used regularly against massive gas attacks of all kinds. You have to wonder just how effective they actually Were, but apparently, they were effective Enough. They had all sorts of masks-for mules, horses, etc but sadly, none for small animals. Whenever an attack would come, all the pets and mascots usually died. Messenger dogs, however, did indeed have masks-as did messenger pigeons-they had gas proof containers they had to rush to and put them into. Unfortunately, for the mules and horses,they rarely had protection for their Eyes, and thus, countless poor animals suffered horribly. "The War to End all Wars",hey? Little did they know. William
    William

    "Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it."

  3. #3

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Thanks William. It is true. All of these artifacts will eventually go to waste given enough time. The important part is to document this stuff as well as possible while we do have the examples. It's not always about the collections. While they are a tonne of fun, it's about the info we can bring to the table to contribute to a larger knowledge base. As for the degradation of these things, about the only thing that can be done by the average private collector is to store it properly in a cool and dark place, preferably in an air tight container if possible.

    As far as animal masks, there were occasional uses of anti-gas pigeon boxes for the messenger pigeons.

    Thanks,
    Dan

  4. #4

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Oops Sorry about the pigeon carrier. I didn't see you mentioned it the first time. Thanks again.

  5. #5

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    It is ashamed how britle these do get, and as you say, they will all be gone someday. We found our C.E.M. tucked away in a glass cabinet of an antique store. I carefully took the mask out of the carrier, right there on the floor of the store and have not returned to to the carrier since. We have a nice wooden box we store it in. We too have the rubber flapper valve, and like yours, it is broken off, even with the metal gard of the C.E.M. it was just too brittle.

    I've come across a few, and even purchased another, in hopes to find one in better condition, but I've yet to find one.

    Russ & Son

  6. #6

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Quote by MySonsDad View Post
    It is ashamed how britle these do get, and as you say, they will all be gone someday. We found our C.E.M. tucked away in a glass cabinet of an antique store. I carefully took the mask out of the carrier, right there on the floor of the store and have not returned to to the carrier since. We have a nice wooden box we store it in. We too have the rubber flapper valve, and like yours, it is broken off, even with the metal gard of the C.E.M. it was just too brittle.

    I've come across a few, and even purchased another, in hopes to find one in better condition, but I've yet to find one.

    Russ & Son
    Thanks. I really like the CEM masks. Fairly cheap to obtain if you are in the US and they bear a lot of historical significance. They also make display/conversation pieces to be reckoned with.

  7. #7
    ?

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    I have a quick question on these particular type of mask did they use a charcoal filtration system in the carrier

    Regards Mark K

  8. #8

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Just to clear up any confusion guys, these masks are not CEMs. They predate the CEM. The Corrected English Model is the "corrected" version of this mask.

    All the best,
    Dan

  9. #9

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Quote by kozowy1967 View Post
    I have a quick question on these particular type of mask did they use a charcoal filtration system in the carrier

    Regards Mark K
    Yes they did. The box type respirators, the BSBR in particular made use of fruit based carbon, commonly coconut. I have a poster that actually asks for coconut shells for gas masks. Thanks a bunch.

  10. #10
    ?

    Default Re: 1917 American Small Box Respirator: America's first gas mask

    Thanks for the quick reply I was un aware of the use of coconut or other fruit based carbon was used in the filtration system.

    Regards Mark K

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