Protective face masks, such as the en149 FFP2 mask, NIOSH N95 face mask, are becoming more common throughout the world. Their main purpose is to protect the wearer from any airborne irritants like dust, small particles, and germs. The mask does this by creating a barrier between the person’s nose and mouth and the outside air. Although these masks are becoming common they are not new. There were similar devices in use for hundreds of years. Scientists and inventors have developed and built on these earlier prototypes to create the modern group of protective face masks.
Some say that Leonardo da Vinci created an early ancestor of the N95 mask. During the 16th century da Vinci reportedly had created a weapon with toxic powder. He told sailors that they should dip woven cloth in water and hold it to their mouth and nose for protection from the toxic powder. In 1799 a mining engineer in Prussia, Alexander Von Humboldt, would invent a primitive respirator to protect miners.
The earlier versions of en149 ffp2 protective masks and NIOSH N95 masks were quite different than today’s N95 and ffp2 face masks which is light and only partially covers the face. Many early masks covered the wearer’s head completely with eye holes so they cold see. Some were made with a rubber material or other specialized fabric. Most of these early respirators required the users to carry small tanks of air for breathing. Some had devices to absorb the exhaled carbon dioxide while other just had valves or vents for the exhaled air.
In 1848 Lewis P. Haslett received the first U.S. patent for his respirator which he called the Haslett’s Lung Protector. This device was much more complicated than today’s N95 mask. The Haslett mask filtered out dust using one directional clapper valves and a moistened wool filter. There were many more respirators to follow, using materials that included charcoal and lime. Scientists and inventors in several countries were working on masks and respirators, including Scottish chemist John Stenhouse and British physicist John Tyndall.
Many of these masks were created for the industrial and manufacturing industries. When chemical weapons began to be used, mask manufacturers worked to develop respirators that would protect the wearers from deadly toxic gases and fumes. There were also early versions created for fire fighters. They all shared the purpose of protecting the wearer’s respiratory system just like today’s N95 mask. Today occupational masks are tested and approved by the FDA and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
Masks were also finding use in the medical field. Louis Pasteur had introduced the theory of germs. He believed and proved that many patients were hurt more by germs than by their original ailment. This lead doctors and nurses to the practice of vigorous hand washing and the use of protective gear such as gloves and face masks. Today there is a version of the N95 mask designed specifically for health care workers.
In addition to the masks made for occupational workers and health care professional, there are ffp2 face mask and N95 face mask designed for the general public. Many people keep these on hand for emergency situations and to protect against airborne viruses.