We know that chlorine is incredibly dangerous if inhaled. It destroys lung tissue, causing people to asphyxiate on their own pulped lungs. It was used as a weapon in World War I, and soldiers were terrified of it. .So why did a US President and a good chunk of Congress get gassed with it as a medical treatment?

Because very few workers in plants making chlorine gas caught cold either. Workers at bleach manufacturing plants also tended to escape the common cold, as well as the flu. That looked like a considerable health benefit in the early 1920s, just after the 1918 “Spanish Influenza” pandemic.

Some doctors believed that chlorine gas stimulated the secretion of mucus, which helped get rid of colds. Some believed it killed the cold itself. Mostly, they just cared that it worked, and they convinced a lot of people that it could help them. That’s how the US Government ended up gassing its own president. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge had a cold he just couldn’t shake, and so the Chemical Warfare Service sealed him in a chamber and pumped in a bit of chlorine gas. They did this three times, and the treatment was actualy successful. After Coolidge came between 23 and 35 senators (accounts vary) and 135 members of the House of Representatives.

Eventually, when other treatments became more effective and when doctors had more of an idea of the damage chlorine does to the lungs, waging chemical warfare against the common cold fell out of favor.


[Via Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life Of Your Common Cold, by Jennifer Ackerman, Under a Green Sea, by Thomas Iain Fait]

Top Image: Imperial War Museums.