It’s Tear Gas’ 100th Birthday, and Police in Ferguson Are Blowing Out the Candles

This post was written by Alex Bauer and originally appeared on RYOT.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the use of a game-changing weapon that, sadly, is still making headlines today.

Tear gas made its first appearance in 1914 at the Battle of the Frontiers during World War I. It was invented by French chemists, who were trying to develop a new method of riot control that would skirt around international laws banning poison gas.

Tear gas was only meant to force people out of the trenches, yet it also caused gagging and burning of the eyes and skin. Because of this, even military dogs needed protection.


Photo: Flickr/History Nerd

“It is easier for man to maintain morale in the face of bullets than in the presence of invisible gas,” said Amos Fries, Chief to the U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare Service in 1928.

In spite of its bad reputation, tear gas quickly found its way to the streets. By the end of the 1920s, New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago police departments were all using it.

With this high demand, “improved,” less-destructive tear gas reached markets. New ways to dispense it came about too: pistols, candles, pens and billy clubs.

An ad for tear gas from the 1920s (Photo: The Guardian)

An ad for tear gas from the 1920s. Photo: The Guardian

On the cusp of World War II, the United States was spending approximately $1.25 million ($21 million in today’s value) on tear gas in anticipation of riots and strikes. The gas didn’t see any action in the second World War, but came back during the Vietnam conflict.

By the 1980s, tear gas was being heavily monitored by human-rights groups. It had been transferred to safer aerosol cans, but with 60 deaths in the 1990s linked to it, many questioned how safe it really was.

Because of this tear gas was banned in warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which the U.S. signed along with most of the world. However, it was not banned from police forces.

Today, tear gas sales are on the rise. From the Arab Spring to the protests in Brazil, police are still relying on a dangerous and outdated method that moved men from their trenches in World War I.

As we hear more horror stories about tear gas being used in Ferguson, Missouri against people protesting the shooting of a black kid by a white cop, you’ve gotta wonder: Why do we let police use a cruel weapon that soldiers can’t?

Photo Credit: RT via YouTube


Arlene C.
Arlene C3 years ago

lu signé merci

Nimue P.

Is this worth marking?

Marc P.
Marc P3 years ago

Barbara D.: You are completely delusional. Police get away with the most heinous of crimes. The courts never hold police to accountability, and people like you on juries routinely excuse the most abhorrent of police behavior - As long as that behavior is meted out to black people. The biggest problem is sniveling bootlicks such as yourself, who are willing to excuse ANY amount of police brutality - As long as it doesn't happen to you or your kin. And I can only imagine the lifestyle you live where people think you deserve a home invasion. The average response time for police called for home invasions is over 30 minutes. So I am willing to bet your story is bullshit. YES we need police. But the reason that so many are completely out of control is directly related to people like you. Cowards that would give permission for police to shoot or abuse OTHER people to provide you with a false sense of security.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

Thanks for this article.
Wendy: I like your post! Rioting and looting can be both, a finely manipulated gimmick introduced by the police or a show of anger against a community that has been perceived maybe for longer than a generation as unsupportive, unkind or openly prejudiced and racist. Sometimes it's hard to find out which was which. It's funny how an empire (USA) that boasts the highest defense-offense budget ever recorded on Earth expects "pacific" demonstrations when their appointed authorities murder its citizens. Such expectations are so unrealistic that they border on the verge of madness.
As to the mention here by someone of the Black Panthers, please do yourself a favor and google COINTELPRO.

Wanda Bagram
Past Member 3 years ago

Rose N., Why do you need one that you are asking for a tank?

Wanda Bagram
Past Member 3 years ago

Rose N. said, "Yes Wanda is at it again"
Facts to forum hate sheeple, they are like sunlight to vampires.

Rose Becke3 years ago


Do you have a tank as well?

Rose Becke3 years ago

Yes Wanda is at it again

Barbara D.
Past Member 3 years ago

Marc, two police officers saved my life during a home invasion. After the two men were arrested, one of the officers rode in the ambulance and stayed with me until my people could get to the hospital. The two officers also visited me three times while I was in hospital.
Because they were good cops.

In one of the twin towns is a housing complex notorious for crime and drug trafficking. A man shot his girlfriend point blank on the street in front of a dozen witnesses. Yesterday he was found guilty of 1st degree murder. Guess what??

Val M.
Val M3 years ago

100th anniversary of tear gas sadly noted.