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100 Years of Tear Gas

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The process began before World War I ended. While troops were still returning home, active and retired military officers began lobbying to keep their chemical-weapons inventions. Fries, who led the Chemical Warfare Service through much of the 1920s, was determined to redeploy the technology for everyday uses like controlling crowds and criminals. He enlisted fellow military veterans, now working as lawyers and businessmen, to reach out to the press and help create a commercial market for the gases.

In the November 26, 1921 issue of the trade magazine Gas Age Record, technology writer Theo M. Knappen profiled Fries, who, he wrote, “has given much study to the question of the use of gas and smokes in dealing with mobs as well as with savages, and is firmly convinced that as soon as officers of the law and colonial administrators have familiarized themselves with gas as a means of maintaining order and power there will be such a diminution of violent social disorders and savage uprising as to amount to their disappearance.” 

Knappen further explained to readers:

The tear gases appear to be admirably suited to the purpose of isolating the individual from the mob spirit … he is thrown into a condition in which he can think of nothing but relieving his own distress. Under such conditions an army disintegrates and a mob ceases to be; it becomes a blind stampede to get away from the source of torture. 

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