As with many technologies we use, a noticeable number of the personal protective equipment (PPE) or safety gear that we use on the jobsite today were inspired by military equipment used in combat. This isn’t a surprise, considering that many of the dangers that soldiers face on the battlefield have similarities to what workers face while working on construction sites (the potential for severe blows to the head, for example).
So it’s no coincidence that safety gear, like hard hats and steel-toed boots, were in combat before they became requisite equipment on the job site. Here is a list of personal protective equipment and a brief history explaining what led to their innovations:
The History of…
- Hard Hats – While the piece of equipment that protects a person’s head from a heavy blow goes back to the Romantic Era and the knight who wore armor, it was World War I (WWI) that led to the development of the construction hard hat we’re familiar with today. The first construction hard hat that was manufactured in the US was a leather helmet created by Edward Dickinson Bullard in 1898. His son went to WWI and came back with a metal helmet that he had used in combat. From that helmet, Dickinson developed the form of the hard hat that we use today.
- Safety Boots (Steel Toe) – During World War II, non-commissioned officers were issued marching boots that had a reinforced toe. While the steel-toe boot was later developed and perfected by the Red Wing Boots Manufacturer, safety boots were another example of how military products influenced civilian life.
- Work Gloves – Work gloves may be the first form of personal protective equipment ever developed. Homer, born between the 12th and 8th Century BC, wrote of a man named Laertes, who wore gloves to protect his hands from thorns while he tended his garden. Arguably more interesting than its history is the fact that, in all the time that people have been using work gloves, very little about the design has changed. For example, while some materials function better in wet climates, in most cases, leather gloves still function best.
- Hearing Protection – Another piece of PPE, hearing protection, was related to the Greek Military. However, ear plugs specifically became a standard military equipment in 1864—during the Civil War. While hearing protection technology continues to change and advance in complexity, it is certainly nothing new.
- Eye Protection – Safety glasses, goggles, and the like are a relatively new innovation. While magnifying glasses have been around approximately 100 years since the birth of Christ, safety glasses are a 20th Century innovation. Unlike many of the PPE we have, eye protection was not an invention associated with the military. Instead, eye protection first became popular within the construction trades—welders, for example—and scientists.
- Respirators – While it is easy to imagine that the first form of respirator was anything more than someone´s shirt pulled up over their nose—or a handkerchief hanging below their eyes down to their chin—Leonardo Di Vinci is actually credited for the first non-makeshift respirator.