View of a soldier, probably Charles William Maurer, with a gas warning sign at the periphery of the American University Experiment Station.

View of a soldier, probably Charles William Maurer, with a gas warning sign at the periphery of the American University Experiment Station.

The story of the Manhattan Project is often told as a modern miracle: Facing difficult odds in World War II, the United States gathers its top minds and produces a weapon that can end the war, but only at the cost of thousands of lives and a permanently changed world order. The scientific success and efficiency is matched only by the conflicted morality behind the achievement.

But the Manhattan Project wasn’t the first time the U.S. did something like this.

In World War I, the U.S. raced to catch up with Germany in the development of chemical weapons. And much of the development and testing of these weapons was done in the nation’s capital.

Theo Emery unearths this largely forgotten story in his new book, The Hellfire Boys.

We talk to Emery and others about how the U.S. raced to create some of the most infamous weapons ever used in war.

Listen to this program on the 1A podcast:

Guests

  • Theo Emery Author, Hellfire Boys: The Birth of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Race for the World's Deadliest Weapons.
  • Erik Olson Director of the health program for the Natural Resources Defense Council; former director of food programs at Pew Health Group
  • Dan Noble Project manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District

Photos From The Chemical Weapons Department

Soldiers pose with and without masks outside one of the AUES buildings. (Photos courtesy of the estate of Addie Ruth Maurer Olson.)

Soldiers run through a gas attack in No Man’s Land.

Soldiers put on their gas masks.

The original caption reads “a bicycle ergometer with an electric brake.”

The original caption reads “team of pets, field hospital.”

These photos document tests of mustard gas and ointments to prevent burns.

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