History of Surgical Mask -part 1

Real Estate Agent with (408) 425-1601 CA bre 1519182

                                                                         Sam Shueh

                                                   Realty One Group

                                                     Cupertino, CA


During the Corona virus pandemic breakout, people were being initially encouraged and now being asked to act what we were taught as children. Wash your hands often with soap for 20 seconds. Avoid close human contact and cover your face with a face mask. Except for social distance new part we do what we have always been taught.


In the middle ages grave diggers and care takers often wrap a cloth or handkerchief over their face to avoid the decomposition stench smell from bodies. Around 1897 western doctors wrapped a clean cloth around their mouth or nose to prevent coughing or sneezing germ filled human droplets infecting on patients during a surgery.


In 1855 there was a plaque breakout from Yunnan, China that resulted in death of over 1 million people. Displaced residents were unable to survive. The disease precipitated 2 armed rebellions for 30 years as many refugees joined the Taiping (Christianity inspired), then Muslim against Manchu uprisings. Around 1890s another plaque originated in Guangxi and Guangdong pandemics(same place as SAR) transmitted to Canton then to Hong Kong that killed about 100,000 residents. The virus ultimately reached India seaports, first killed 1 million people and eventually to all Indian rural states repeated every year resulted in a total 12.5 million deaths over a 30-year span.


The third plaque epidemic occurred during 1910-1911 in Harbin area and later to other parts of northern China and is called Manchuria 3rd plaque. The Chinese Imperial Court appointed Wu Liande (伍連德), a Penang born Chinese physician trained at Cambridge University, to investigate the cause and gave recommendation. Having conducted autopsy on dead body lungs the plague was proven with great confidence it was spread by air, Dr Wu was supposed to be relieved by a well-respected French physician Dr. Mesny who thought that virus had always been carried by marmot ticks [ref below]. He therefore worked without a mask and died within 48 hours like other infected sick people. Dr. Wu stayed on developed a better surgical respirator he had seen in use in the west into more substantial masks with layers of gauze and cotton to filter the air electrostatic-ally.


Dr Wu discovered Yersinia Pestis in the body tissues and further concluded that the epidemic was pneumonic plague, which could be transmitted by human breath or sputum. This was contrary to the general theory that plague could only be transmitted by rats or fleas and could not be transmitted from person to person. Dr. Wu in 1911 had convinced the Russian and Japanese railway authorities to cease operation of all trains. These efforts cut-off all transportation, and thus eliminate transmission source of the disease in NE China. The death toll in Harbin continued to rise as the corpses of those who had died of the epidemic served as a perfect incubator for the plague bacillus. In fact, those who died from and buried for years are discouraged to dig up as virus are still highly contigious.


Dr. Wu sent a petition to sanction the cremation of the deceased, and some 3,000 corpses and coffins were gathered and cremated. No further infection was reported as of March 31, 1911. The deadly disease had all vanished! Dr Wu received a Manchu mandarin second class distinction honorary title. He stayed on under the new Republic of China. 


Shortly after Dr. Wu created a forerunner of CDC there and organized an International Plague Conference in Mukden (Shenyang). Renowned epidemiologists and scientists from 11 countries, including the USA, UK, Japan, Russia, and France were in attendance. His finding surprised all of his western trained scientific peers and was met with widespread admiration. 


Wu’s simple respirator design was used later throughout Europe and America. It was called Wu’s mask. It was used extensively in 1918 Spanish flu which killed over 50 million people. In the London street(foto above right)  there was no social distancing. The mask was the only protection. Wu was nominated by British overseas administration for a Nobel medicine prize in 1935. He passed away in 1960 among numerous honorary medical school degrees. There is an institute of Infectious Disease in Harbin today named after him. I will research and present today's N95 surgical mask modified from woman's Bra by 3M in the next blog.


Sam Shueh (408) 425-1601. SamShuehRealtor  at Gmail.com 



1 Top left photo is used in Manchuria and right a replica mask used in London-1918 on a street car.

2 Tarbagan marmot is a rat-like animal considered a delicacy and is consumed by the Chinese. As late as May 2019, a Mongol couple died from plague eating them. 

3. History tends to repeat itself. Airborne contamination vs physical contact, isolation, frozen temperature in coldest part of China did not slow down the spread of an infectious virus. Corona virus according to French scientists needs to be at 212 deg F to be killed.  Dr Wu was a brilliant physician. He almost worked alone to identify the cause and quickly put an even more potent plaque which has a 100% death rate once contracted.

4. The medical surgical mask is a very recent invention. Earliest mention of the design were mentioned in 1897 only.


Comments (8)

Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Nothing new here Sam my parents thought me to wash my hands before eating as well as after eating, I guess with Social Media and all those other wonderful improvements personal hygiene went to the way side... on a side note loved the history lesson...Endre

Apr 14, 2020 10:10 PM
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

We will talk about N95 surgical mask. A woman realtor use it as her logo. I joked around is that from your undergarment?  I researched and found out a woman magazine was working with 3M on a molded bra and decided to make a mask. That is the modern history of a 60 year old N95%.  

Apr 14, 2020 10:29 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker, eXp Realty - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Interesting overview of the history of the surgical mask. I look forward to the next segment.

Apr 15, 2020 06:14 AM
Brian England
Vacasa - Gilbert, AZ
MBA, GRI, REALTOR® Real Estate in East Valley AZ

I did not know this history, but now I know a lot more about masks than I did earlier this morning.  Thank you!

Apr 15, 2020 07:21 AM
Joe Manausa
Joe Manausa Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Tallahassee Real Estate

Thanks for sharing the interesting history of the surgical mask Sam Shueh 

Apr 18, 2020 04:22 AM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

This is a really cool idea and a way to honor the people helping out and helping to save lives. Thanks for posting!

Apr 18, 2020 10:55 PM
MichelleCherie Carr Crowe Just Call...408-252-8900
Get Results Team...Just Call (408) 252-8900! . DRE #00901962 . Licensed to Sell since 1985 . Altas Realty - San Jose, CA
Family Helping Families Buy & Sell Homes 40+ Years

Again, thank you Sam for sharing the history and development of N95 masks.

Apr 30, 2020 04:56 PM
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

We have so much to learn about pandemics, and it should be talked about more.

Jul 07, 2020 08:55 PM