Chemical Warfare and Mickey Mouse: What in Disney World do they have in common?


Our new exhibition, WWII & NYC, has gotten me thinking about war and civilians — those are the people who are not on active duty with a military organization. During wars, it is the duty of brave soldiers to protect their country and the people who live in it. But there are other things that have been designed to protect people. Sometimes protective masks are used when there is a risk of chemical contamination.

Protective masks have been around since the 16th century when Leonardo da Vinci wrote about a mask that would be needed to prevent people from being infected by a lethal powder weapon he developed. He said, “Have your nose and mouth covered over with a fine cloth dipped in water…” Well, since then, the mask has definitely improved! But they still are a bit scary looking!

A gas mask exercise in Southend, Essex, 1941. Photograph: Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images

This is where Disney comes in the picture! During World War II, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, masks were distributed to residents of Hawaii. The ones for children had bunny ears attached to make them more appealing. Walt Disney cooperated with a gas mask company to come up with something sturdier and designed the Mickey Mouse mask!


One thousand of these masks were produced during WWII, but luckily they were never given out or used! I wonder what the gas mask of the future will look like? Can you come up with a fun design?



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