It is the sign of this time. The mask defines us and is the clear reminder of the pandemic. But its massive use is not new. There were other times when they came into vogue. Today we are going to talk about the evolution of the masks over time.
From the Persians
When are the first masks used to protect themselves? At least from the 6th century BC. Images of people with cloth over their mouths were found on the doors of Persian tombs. Marco Polo said servants in 13th century China covered their faces with woven scarves. The idea was that the emperor didn’t want his breath to interfere with the taste of his food.
The industrial revolution of the 18th century helped create London’s famous smog. Many winters saw thick blankets of grayish-yellow smog covering the capital. The smog was so thick that the trains couldn’t go. There were even reports of cattle dying of suffocation in the fields. In the 1930s, “anti-smog” masks became a matter of course.
The Black Death first struck Europe in the 14th century, killing at least 25 million people. This heralded the advent of the medical mask. Some believed that the disease was spread through poisoned air, or “miasm”. The plague symbol was an eerie image of a man in a bird mask. Perfumes and spices were still used. The “peak” was created as a place where herbs and aromas were placed.
Fear of war
Seeing cyclists with anti-pollution masks was common long before the coronavirus. The English authorities were alarmed by the threat of World War II. Gas masks were issued to both the common people and the military. By 1938, 35 million respirators had been distributed to all civilians. They were a familiar sight in everyday life, including the ornaments of the dancers in Murray’s cabaret on Beak Street.
An influenza outbreak at the end of World War I turned into a devastating global pandemic. It was called the Spanish flu. Spain was the first country to report the outbreak. Around 50 million people died in the process.
Companies, including the London-based General Omnibus Co, tried to slow the spread of the infection. They sprayed a flu solution on trains and buses. They also made their employees wear masks.
Save your life
The 1918 Nursing Times magazine featured tips on how to contain the disease. “Every nurse, every doctor, every ward helper” who entered the epidemic wing had to wear a mask. Also a full body suit.
Ordinary people have been told to “wear a mask and save your life”. Sound familiar? The evolution of the masks over time is also evidence that history repeats itself at times.