On December 7, 1941, Japanese pilots bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into World War II. The United States’ entry into battle increased the threat which the nation had, other than Pearl Harbor, avoided; namely, that Axis powers may launch assaults on American soil. Isolated geographically from the war, this seemed unlikely previously, but with the United States now an active participant in the Allies’ efforts, the risk became more and more real.
As part of America’s domestic security efforts, the government issued and distributed gas masks to the population of Hawaii. But the masks were made for adults, and not only did they not fit young children, but they were scary devices which would be hard to get a child to use anyway. The solution: Mickey Mouse — in gas mask form.
According to Major Robert D. Walk
, a one-time instructor at the US Army Reserve Command, the mask was designed to be a toy of sorts, but with a practical side. Children were to carry it around and wear it “as part of a game” in order to make the mask emotionally comfortable, with the goal of getting children to don the protective gear quickly and leave it on. Roughly 1,000 of these were made, and thankfully, they were never used, as the United States was never hit with a chemical attack.
Want a mask? Sorry, but they are nearly impossible to find. After the war, the military distributed some of them to senior officials as keepsakes. But by and large, most went the way of the 8-track– obsolete and therefore discarded.
Bonus fact: In an effort to raise money for war bonds during World War II, Walt Disney produced an animated short, seen here, called Der Fuehrer’s Face. The short features Donald Duck as a Nazi factory worker whose job it is to screw caps onto artillery shells. Donald’s experience as a Nazi worker becomes progressively worse and worse (and more and more ridiculous) until the end — which I’ll not spoil. (Suffice it to say that Donald was always loyal to the Allied cause.) The short won an Academy Award for Animated Short Film. It is the only Donald Duck animation to win an Oscar.
From the Archives: Lookout Air Raids: The mainland U.S. was hit during World War II.
Related: Can’t find your own Mickey Mouse gas mask? How about making your own?