Monday, January 01, 2007

Mickey Mouse gas mask

This post looks at a little known subject of Walt Disney’s contribution to the home front during World War II.
One month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the owner of the Sun Rubber Company became concerned Americans might be subjected to enemy gas attacks. I was fortunate enough to track down and interview the son of the now-deceased owner of Sun Rubber who shed light on the fascinating item shown in this post.

Correspondence between Disney licensee Sun Rubber and the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service began in late 1941. In January 1942 Walt Disney met with members of the Chemical Warfare Service to discuss the prospects of a Mickey Mouse gas mask for children.
Walt Disney presented the gas mask design to Major General William Porter, Chief of the C.W.S. and several other Army officers including Colonel George Fisher, Colonel Maurice Barker and General English. As a result of the meeting, Sun Rubber produced several prototypes and submitted them for review.

Approximately 125 masks were ordered in February 1942. Production, however, was canceled two months later due to the divergence of all rubber to military purposes.

Very few of these masks have endured the ravages of oxidation. I personally know of the existence of just 5 examples in varying states of completeness and condition. The actual mask in this post currently resides at the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The photo of Walt Disney, Colonel Fisher, Colonel Barker and a drawing of the mask is taken from a 1959 Army Chemical Warfare manual I have in my reference library. I also own several newspaper clippings of a similar image.
The photo of the little girl wearing the mask is courtesy Major Robert D. Walk. As her father watches, the girl places her little doll in a tent designed to protect infants from a chemical attack.

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