During WWII, the United States government searched for a way to protect children from toxic chemicals used to wipe out populations during times of conflict. Their seemingly perfect solution was Mickey Mouse gas masks. These gas masks for kids were intended to make a potentially terrifying situation less frightening – though, arguably, the plan backfired during the design phase.
The Disney gas mask was thought to be an ingenious idea on paper. What kid doesn't like Mickey Mouse? However, if you look at the masks today, they are almost as scary as the adult-sized masks they were intended to replace.
These gas masks are among the many bizarre measures dreamt up by the US government during times of conflict. Between unimaginable loss, extreme espionage, and this horrifying safety equipment, WWII continues to be remembered as a traumatic time for everyone – even the country's youngest citizens.
Walt Disney Officially Approved The Masks
In the early 1940s, the intentional use of toxic chemicals to achieve mass loss of life became a big concern for Americans. One month after the Japanese struck the infamous Hawaiian naval base, the US government decided to prepare its citizens for all possible disasters by distributing gas masks. There was just one problem: They scared children.
In 1942, Walt Disney approved the creation of Mickey Mouse gas masks made especially for kids. The hope was that the mask would appear less frightening to youngsters.
Normal Gas Masks Were Too Big For Children
Besides their supposedly "fun" design, there was another reason for the government to make Mickey Mouse gas masks. The regulation-sized devices were far too large and heavy for children. The specially-sized Mickey mask was perfectly tailored for children aged 18 months to four years old.
Children Were Supposed To Wear The Masks "As Part Of A Game"
Those in charge hoped that children would view the Mickey Mouse masks more as toys than as life-saving devices. As one expert notes:
“The mask was designed so children would carry it and wear it as part of a game. This would reduce the fear associated with wearing a gas mask and hopefully, improve their wear time and, hence, survivability.”
Children Were Taught How To Properly Wear The Masks
A 1943 recording features a group of kindergartners from Vancouver, British Colombia, learning to use specially-fitted gas masks. The film's narrator explains how "psychology is being used to train the youngsters" to use the masks. He describes the device as being "attractively colored and equipped with a noise maker, which operates when the wearer exhales."
He adds, "The children become so occupied with the play elements that their minds are kept far from fear."
The masks were also made very affordable – just $1.25.