The Canadian Snowstorm Mask (1939)

The Canadian snowstorm mask was a plastic (not glass) cone purposed for face protection during snowstorms. The hounskull-like design is peculiar and eye-catching but was doubtless effective for short trips in girding against nature’s savage increase (though, it strikes me as doubtful how useful it would be for extended low-temperature excursions, both because of the presumed discomfort it would engender and the increasing frigidity of the plastic).

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Two women wearing snowstorm masks. Canada, Montreal, 1939. Nationaal Archief.

There is little information pertaining to the invention and given this scarcity one can only speculate as to the type of plastic used. Those unfamiliar with the period may be surprised to learn that plastic existed in the 30s; one commenter online I spied while researching the device remarked on the photo above, declaring that, “Plastic of this type had not yet been invented in 1939 – i’m thinking this picture is a fake. Glass would have been quite heavy/fragile.” He’s right that glass masks of such a density would have been both heavy and fragile (as well as horrible insulators) but he is quite wrong about the question of plastics. Synthetic polymer was created in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt (designed as a substitute for ivory). The first fully synthetic plastic—Bakelite—was created not long thereafter in 1907 as a replacement for shellac by Leo Baekeland. By the 30s, the plastic age was well underway and pervaded everything from rope to body armour. One of the most fascinating and complex plastic constructs of the time was the 1939 Plastic Pontiac, a showcar manufactured by General Motors, Fisher Body and Rohm & Haas. As the name suggests it was composed almost entirely of plastic (plexiglas had just come into use) and was see-through.

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1939 Plastic Pontiac (alternatively, the ‘See-through Pontiac’) being assembled.

My interest in the snowstorm mask lies not just purely in retro-aesthetic appreciation, but also in practical applications of prospective modulations of the design. One aspect of the mask which struck me after some rumination was its similarity to a bascinet visor.

The bascinet (alternatively, basnet) was a coned full-helm, composed of a conical or globular steel cap and pointed visor that first rose to prominence in the 13th Century and was widely used throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th Century. The helm was typically paired with a padded arming cap and mail coif. The bascinet’s pointed face-guard and conical cap offered a unique advantage over the great helm (pot helm) in terms of defense, as strikes would be more readily deflected by the design of the former, than the latter. Further, where the great helm came close about the face, the bascinet extended away from the face, meaning that, for a wearer of the latter, a crushing blow (such as from a mace, plançon or goedendag) was less likely to be be fatal.

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Bascinet of Ernst of Austria, c. 1400.

A rigorous synthesis of both designs may prove fruitful in the formation of future weather and weapon resistant headwear. For example: A see-through bascinet composed of photochromic synthetics would provide considerable benefit for trekkers making angled ingress across high altitudes where light is blinding, snow is thick, ice-and-rock-fall is plentiful, and oxygen is sparse.


Sources¹

  1. Alex Goranov. (—) The 14th Century Bascinet. My Armoury.
  2. Geoffrey Hacker. (2011) 1939/1940 Plastic Pontiac – First Plastic Car In The World. Undiscovered Classics.
  3. Kelly DeVries. (1996) Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century : Discipline, Tactics, and Technology. Boydell & Brewer.
  4. Nationaal Archief (2009) Plastic sneeuwstormbeschermer / Face protection from snowstorms. Nationaal Archief.
  5. Phil Morris. (2013) Snow cone masks, Snowstorm Wear. Phil Morris.
  6. SHI. (—) The History & Future of Plastics. SHI.

Footnotes

¹ ‘(—)’ denotes sources whose date of publication was not available.

The Paper Forge: From Literary Concept To Technical Creation

§00. Practical invention following conceptual abstraction | The civilizational significance of literary art lies, firstly in model generation and secondarily, in the application the generated model. The preferred format for model dispensation varies (novels, novellas, short stories, manifestos, poems, etc…) but the effect of all great literary works is, at least in one way, the same: That the generated concepts of the fictive world are externalized so as to impact the real one by the creation of a new cultural milieu(s) or invention(s) (the latter of which will itself, if sufficiently applied, generate the former). To illustrate this point are twelve examples of literary conceptions which drove practical and significant technical invention.

§01. Creation of the credit card | Everyone knows the credit card, its conceptual inventor, Edward Bellamy, however, is considerably less well known. A college drop out and fiction author, Bellamy’s 1888 utopian scifi novel, Looking Back, prefigured both the modern debit card and contemporary department stores.

§02. Invention of the TASER | The Tom Swift series contained over 100 novels, one of which was, Tom Swift & His Electric Rifle (1911), which saw the titular hero traveling to “Darkest Africa.” Interestingly, Swift’s device formed the conceptual basis for the TASER, originally TSER (‘Tom Swift’s Electric Rifle’).

§03. Invention of the modern helicopter | In 1886 Jules Verne published the novel, Robur le Conquérant (Robur the Conqueror), also known as The Clipper of the Clouds. The story follows Robur and his airship, Albatross. It so inspired Igor Sikorsky that it lead him to invent his own flying machine; the modern helicopter.

§04. Invention of the open water submarine | After reading 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, inventor Simon Lake became enamoured with undersea travel. As a consequence of this newfound passion he designed The Argonaut (completed 1897), the world’s first successful open-water submarine. Jules Verne congratulated him via letter. [The ‘20,000 leagues’ in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870), referred to the total distance traveled whilst under the sea, not the lowest depth to which the Nautilus descended.]

§05. Invention of teleconferencing | In his book, In the year 2889 (1889), Jules Verne wrote of a technology called the ‘phonotelephote’ that allowed for “the transmission of images by means of sensitive mirrors connected by wires,” conceptually forerunning modern video-conferencing technology.

§06. Origin of the word ‘robot’ |  The word ‘robot’ is a relatively new addition to the english language and finds its origin in the play Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (1920) by Karel Čapek (1880-1938). The play concerns the story of a industrialist who creates a class of synthetic people called ‘roboti.’

§07. Inspiration for chain reaction theory | In 1932, British scientists determined how to split an atom. The same year, physicist Leo Szilard discovered H.G. Wells’ novel, The World Set Free (1914), which helped the scientist to understand “what the liberation of atomic energy on a large scale would mean.”

§08. The literary inspiration for the world wide web | In 1964 Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, Dial F for Frankenstein, was published in Playboy. The plot concerned a telephone network that becomes sentient. This concept greatly impressed Tim Berners-Lee, who later went on to MIT where he laid the groundwork for the world wide web.

§09. Creation of geostationary satellites | Between 1942 & 1945, the Venus Equilateral short story series by George Oliver Smith (also known by the pen name Wesley Long), was published in Astounding Science Fiction. The stories were the first in popular literature to make mention of geostationary orbit.

§10. Creation of the waldo/telefactor/remote manipulator | Robert A. Heinlein’s 1942 short story, Waldo, tells the tale of a genius born with crippling physical weakness, who fashions mechanical arms to ameliorate his difficulties. ‘The waldo’ (telefactor) of the nuclear industry was named in recognition of Heinlein’s innovative idea.

§11. Invention of self-replicating program | The sci-fi cyber-thriller, The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brenner, described a self-replicating program that spreads throughout a computer network. In 1982, Shoch and Hupp created the first computer worm (self-replicating and spreading computer virus).

§12. Inspiration for warship combat information centers | In the 1930s-40s the Lensmen novels series by E. E. Smith, proved popular with readers in its depiction of the adventures of a fantastical galactic patrol. The Directrix, a command ship featured in the series, directly inspired the creation of warship combat information centers.

 

 


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Sources

  1. Bill Ryan. (1995) What Verne Imagined, Sikorsky Made Fly. New York Times.
  2. Charlotte Ahlin. (2018) 11 Real-Life Inventions Inspired By Science Fiction Novels. Bustle.
  3. Daniel P. Kirkpatrick. (2012) Dail F For Frankenstein: The Birth Of The World Wide Web. Living In The Metaverse.
  4. Gabriel Thebeholder. (2015) 33 Inventions Inspired by SF. Slide Share.
  5. Howard Markel. (2011) The Origin Of The Word ‘Robot.’ Science Friday.
  6. Trent Hamm. (2014) Edward Bellamy, Inventor of the Credit Card. The Simple Dollar.
  7. Vangie Beal. (2015) The Difference Between a Virus, Worm & Trojan Horse. Webopedia.
  8. Yazin Akkawi. (2018) The Role Of Science Fiction In Design. Prototypr.

  1. Archive.org: Astounding Science Fiction collection.
  2. George O. Smith wikipedia entry.
  3. Venus Equilateral wikipedia entry.