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Industrial Production, 1918: Making Gas Masks--lots of them
Old 10-07-2016, 08:59 AM   #1
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Industrial Production, 1918: Making Gas Masks--lots of them

I don't know if others will find this as interesting as I did.
National Archives: How Gas Masks Were Built During WWI
It's a 6+ minute War Department film from 1918 showing how US gas masks were manufactured. These masks saved the lives of tens of thousands of US soldiers during WWI, and producing them en mass was a huge job.
- Peach pits were burned to make the charcoal filters--that kind of charcoal was found to be especially effective. The film shows the process.
- Note the attire of the folks working in the factory--men in ties and shirtsleeves, women in full skirts. I wonder if that is legit, or if folks dressed up for the filming.
- The amount of hand labor put into each mask is amazing. I can't imagine what one would cost today if manufactured like this.
- The actual mask was probably a nightmare to use. The vision ports are very limited, and the user has to breathe through a rubber mouthpiece (nose pincher is included in the mask). It's nothing like modern protective masks. On the flip-side, the filter looks easy to change (compared to the old US M17 mask with the filters in the smooth cheeks--I was about 50-50 in getting them changed out in one breath.)

Anyway, apropos of nothing ER, just a reminder of how things have changed.
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Old 10-07-2016, 01:25 PM   #2
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Nice little diversion, even if it was on a dark and ugly subject. Thanks for sharing.

My grandmother worked as a seamstress during this time, and the one picture I've seen of her in this age is spot on to the dress style. This looks like the real thing, and it is normal. Smocks and coveralls over your clothes were the norm for the really dirty jobs (printing ink, dyeing). You see a bit of that in a scene or two. Try to remember to your childhood when you visited your shoe repair guy. I bet you he wore a shirt and tie with a big old leather coverall. "Casual" clothes didn't really exist. And jeans were for the miners on the west coast (this is probably an east coast factory). It must have been a blast (furnace) in the summer.

There's a nice discussion of casual clothing in this Time article. This film was basically right on the eve of a revolution in clothing styles that took off shortly after.
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Old 10-07-2016, 09:21 PM   #3
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Interesting. I like these little 'snapshots' of a past time. So different from a dry description.

Very labor intensive. Lots of leak testing (you see manometers, the U-shaped tubes with fluid for measuring air pressure, in several shots). It does seem like even in candid shots at that time, people are in dress clothes, unless they are doing manual labor.

A youtube comment asked about the booth with one light bulb - I'm guessing they used light to check for leaks or something.

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Old 10-08-2016, 05:57 AM   #4
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I own a house that was built in 1908; it has been remodeled over the years and I use it as a rental. The original closets that are still in place are very small and shallow; you cannot hang a coat, shirt or whatever going perpendicular to the door, there is no closet rod but 8 inch pegs.

The real estate agent said that when the house was built that's all you needed; the clothes you wore and your Sunday best was in the closet.
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Old 10-08-2016, 06:22 AM   #5
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Our house was built in 1858. One day, while doing a remodeling project, we found a bedroom closet that had been closed in and forgotten many years ago. It was just as you describe -- very narrow, with a high and low row of hooks on each wall rather than a rod. Sadly, there was no hidden treasure to go with it.
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Old 10-08-2016, 06:42 AM   #6
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Very labor intensive.
Yes, it "feels" like labor was relatively "cheap" compared to today, at least relative to the cost of materials.
Also, the process for making the masks seems like it could be easily made more efficient. I didn't understand one of the first steps with the raw cloth, where somebody had marked the sheet with chalk in the rough oversize outlines of the mask blank. Why weren't those just printed onto the fabric as it came off the roll? One big roller with the design and a small ink roller would replace a worker, and get a more consistent result. Then another guy cut these out with a power shear, going around all these irregular lines. The next step is a die cutter where these rough blanks are put into the press one at a time to be precisely cut. So why did we need the guy to make that rough cut? Much better to use a bigger die press that can accommodate a piece of material the width of the roll, with about 5 mask blanks efficiently nested together to make best use of the width of the material.

Maybe the process was designed to rapidly use machines that were already at hand. That would have been okay for the first few thousand thousand masks, but I'd hope that the production process got more efficient later.

The safety standards sure have changed a lot. Los of machines without guards, and those guys walking around in the railcar full of peach pits pushing them down the hopper--a good chance to get a foot caught in the slot. I can imagine the levels of VOCs in that factory were "somewhat elevated."
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Old 10-08-2016, 06:57 AM   #7
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Our house was built in 1858. One day, while doing a remodeling project, we found a bedroom closet that had been closed in and forgotten many years ago. It was just as you describe -- very narrow, with a high and low row of hooks on each wall rather than a rod. Sadly, there was no hidden treasure to go with it.
The wall stud spaces are probably packed with bearer bonds. There's only one way to find out . . .
"There's always money in the banana stand."
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Old 10-08-2016, 07:36 AM   #8
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...
Also, the process for making the masks seems like it could be easily made more efficient. ...

Maybe the process was designed to rapidly use machines that were already at hand. That would have been okay for the first few thousand thousand masks, but I'd hope that the production process got more efficient later.

...
Now you're bringing back some memories of the production equipment that I designed over the years. I've put equipment into production under those exact constraints. It was cheaper and faster to alter some equipment coming from a product that was being eliminated, and re-purpose it to the new product. Often, it was a strange shoe-horn fitting effort, and any engineer looking at it w/o knowing the background would just shake their head - 'what was this guy thinking? what's all this extra stuff for? Why not do it x,y,z way?'.

And then, once it is online and working, there just isn't that much incentive to update it to something 'better'. I can imagine under the pressures of war, and with lives at stake, the support teams were very busy putting out fires. You might have to stop the line to try something new and better, and there is always the risk that something would go wrong, or that production would slip while the operators got up to speed on the new equipment.

And I did 'rewind' (scroll back I guess?) that section, I couldn't quite figure out the stop and mark step. I see the fabric already had that square section cut out. It did seem odd, but I'm sure there's some good reason behind it.

I wonder what that adhesive was that they smeared on with their fingers? I don't think there were many good adhesives back then. Looks like it dried pretty fast, must have been flexible. Hide glue and milk protein based glues are about all I'm familiar with as 'old' adhesives (and those aren't very flexible I don't think), plus cement and shellac, but those are not flexible at all.

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Old 10-08-2016, 07:50 AM   #9
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I wonder what that adhesive was that they smeared on with their fingers? I don't think there were many good adhesives back then. Looks like it dried pretty fast, must have been flexible.
I was guessing it was something like rubber cement. It was invented in the early 1900s, it's just rubber (natural or otherwise) dissolved in a carrier. When the solvent dissolves, the rubber remains. Obviously, the solvent is something very volatile if it needs to dry quickly--maybe naptha? Whatever it is, he's just spreading it on with his fingers--hmmm, what could be wrong with that?
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Old 10-08-2016, 10:28 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Yes, it "feels" like labor was relatively "cheap" compared to today, at least relative to the cost of materials.
Also, the process for making the masks seems like it could be easily made more efficient. I didn't understand one of the first steps with the raw cloth, where somebody had marked the sheet with chalk in the rough oversize outlines of the mask blank. Why weren't those just printed onto the fabric as it came off the roll?
The cry of productivity! Have you listened to the finance pundits lately? Wringing their hands over lack of productivity gains.

Obviously, you found a few chances to improve productivity with 100 year's hindsight.

Seriously, remember there was still an industrial revolution going on. Methods were improving rapidly. What is obvious now wasn't then. Their collective memory and "best practices" were of 100s of years of artisan and craftsman labor.

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I was guessing it was something like rubber cement. It was invented in the early 1900s, it's just rubber (natural or otherwise) dissolved in a carrier. When the solvent dissolves, the rubber remains. Obviously, the solvent is something very volatile if it needs to dry quickly--maybe naptha? Whatever it is, he's just spreading it on with his fingers--hmmm, what could be wrong with that?
Yeah, I think it was rubber cement. Absolutely nothing could go wrong with those nasty volatile compounds. Perfectly safe.
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Old 10-08-2016, 10:35 AM   #11
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I was guessing it was something like rubber cement. It was invented in the early 1900s, it's just rubber (natural or otherwise) dissolved in a carrier. When the solvent dissolves, the rubber remains. Obviously, the solvent is something very volatile if it needs to dry quickly--maybe naptha? Whatever it is, he's just spreading it on with his fingers--hmmm, what could be wrong with that?
Yes, I looked it up, and rubber cement was around at that time. Just a mixture of rubber (cured or uncured) and solvent.

Man, I got exposed to a LOT of Trichlorethylene before it was eliminated (80's?). Really cleaned up a solder joint fast! Evaporated super fast! We live and learn.

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