The history of air filters begins, not surprisingly, with firefighters. Long renowned as one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet, early firefighters had it especially tough. Imagine going into a house to make a rescue with nothing but a wet cloth tied around your face! John and Charles Dean changed all that in 1823 when they patented their new smoke-protecting device. It allowed for firefighters to be protected from the acrid smoke and dangerous chemicals in the air when they fought fires. Later, that device was adapted for use by underwater divers.
Around the same time, a man named Augustus Siebe was marketing his own version of a diving respirator, which comprised of a helmet and a series of small tubes. A tube on one side of the helmet pumped fresh air in, while a tube on the other side allowed bad air to escape.
Mr. Siebe later went on to found Siebe, Gorman, and Co., a company that would be instrumental in developing gas masks for the war effort in 1914.
In 1849 a man by the name of Lewis Haslett walked into a U.S. patent office with a great idea. A short while later, Haslett came out with the first U.S. patent ever issued for what he called an “Inhaler or Lung Protector”. His new device was an improvement on the old air breathing devices because it contained a special filter used to get rid of dust.
Coal miners around the world breathed a little easier that day.
John Stenhouse made further improvements in 1854 when he added charcoal to the mix. A chemist by nature, Stenhouse realized that the amazing purifying qualities of charcoal could filter noxious substances out of the air.
The first gas mask was born, but it would be another 60 years before anyone would realize just how important this device would become. British physicist John Tyndall invented a fireman’s respirator in 1871 that protected firefighters against smoke and gas. These were improvements on the older models of firefighting equipment because they were some of the first portable respirators. Firemen no longer needed to be tethered by long hoses. They had gained freedom of movement, a handy thing to have inside a blazing inferno.
Every new development in the gas mask took them a step closer to modern filtration and purification technology, but it wasn’t until World War One that the personal filtration unit came into its own.
In February of 1915 The British Army began using a specially developed carbon monoxide filter on the front lines. They had discovered that unexploded German shells buried in the soil near their trenches gave off massive quantities of carbon monoxide. The gas, which is heavier than air, settled into the trenches and killed hundreds of men.
During the early hours of April 15, 1915, the era of modern chemical warfare began with the German army lobbing canisters of chlorine gas into the French forward positions. Like the machine gun and flame thrower, these new weapons proved to be very effective.
Within months, both sides were throwing whatever noxious substances they could find at each other. Mustard Gas and Chlorine were the two most common types, and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men. In desperation, both sides sought protection from the deadly gas attacks, and the development of the modern gas mask came about.
Strangely enough, it was the project that brought the world fifty years of Cold War stress that brought the world’s allergy sufferers fast relief and an allergy-free lifestyle.
During World War Two the U.S. government made an effort to develop the ultimate weapon that would give them the edge they needed to win the war. It was named the Manhattan Project, and it was one of the most closely guarded secrets of World War Two.
While working with radioactive material, the government also needed a way to filter out those harmful particles and keep the air clean for their scientists. Their research had already shown that large doses of radiation were lethal, and if all the scientists died, who would build the bombs?
They needed a reliable way to filter the air, and they found it with the development of the HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. The HEPA filter is the most reliable filter available, and greatly improves the surrounding indoor air quality. At the time, it far outclassed all other forms of air filtration units, and its design was deemed Top Secret.
The HEPA filter is good for filtering out 99.7 per cent of all particulates 0.3 microns in size. It was more than enough for their needs, which was simply to filter out the radioactive dust particles floating in the air.
After the war, the HEPA filter design was declassified, and over the next several years several air filter companies made their own tweaks on the design. The HEPA filter was popular all through the fifties and sixties with bomb shelter designers and builders.
The HEPA filter was an important step in the elimination of indoor air pollution, and continues to be one of the best air filters on the market today. A HEPA filter can mean the difference between stale, dusty air and clean, fresh air.
In the last twenty years the focus of air quality specialists has slowly turned away from filtration and toward purification. In the past, charcoal filters and multi-layer filters were good at getting rid of noxious vapours and toxic chemicals, but only moderately successful at removing spores, moulds, and viruses from the air.
Viral outbreaks such as the Ebola plagues in Africa have shown the importance of proper air purification, and the war on terror has cemented that fact. This has spawned a new generation of electronic air cleaners and home air filters.
Whether you have allergies, are afraid of airborne viruses and poisons, or just want clean, fresh air, there is an indoor air purifier for you. With styles that range from coronal discharge purifiers to plate or needle ionizers, indoor air purifiers are designed to suit any home or office.
Are you ready to take the jump from dirty air to fresh air?
Bill Schnarr is a freelance writer providing tips and advice for consumers about home air purifiers, hepa filters and the benefits of drinking water for a healthy body and mind. Learn more about ragweed and allergic rhinitis remedies. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.