Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Jan 2003

Noxious Tear-Gas Bomb Mightier in Peace than in War

By L. G. Edwardson

From The World Magazine, July 27, 1924, pp. 4-5. Annotations by Joseph R. Svinth. Copyright © EJMAS 2003. All rights reserved.

Tear gas, the same noxious vapor that crept over no man’s land in the World War and turned whole regiments of able fighters into blubbering, weeping men, helpless to attack or resist, has been enlisted by society in its age-old fight against the enemies it has within itself. [EN1]

This agency of disorder and destruction has become the most efficient, the most powerful weapon ever placed in the hands of those sworn to uphold the law.

Patrolman S.J. Jorgensen
Patrolman S.J. Jorgensen with gas mask, gas gun, and gas bomb, circa
1929. The image is from an undated Seattle Post-Intelligence article on
file at Seattle Police Museum, courtesy James Ritter.

There was, for instance, that moonshine-crazed maniac in Pittsburgh recently, who held a hundred policemen at bay for hours after shooting two men, but who was routed by a single gas grenade fired from a rifle into the room in which he had barricaded himself.

Policeman Brown, patrolling his beat late in the afternoon, noticed the staggering figure of an intoxicated man viciously hurling people out of his path.

"Stop!" commanded the policeman as he headed across the street.

The man turned, and after gazing stupidly at the policeman for a moment, whipped out a revolver and fired pointblank at the officer. It was all over in a jiffy. The bluecoat slumped to the street with a bullet in his brain.

With a howling mob at his heels the man started to run. Attracted by the sounds of the shooting, a motorcycle policeman and a fireman joined the pursuers. After running a hundred yards or so the fugitive suddenly dodged into the doorway of a hotel, cowed the guests in the lobby with his gun, then leaped up the stairs.

The policeman and the fireman were at his heels, the former firing as he took the stairs two at a time. The bullets went wild. At the second landing the desperado turned and fired. The first shot toppled over the fireman. The policeman scampered back for reinforcements. His gun was empty, and it would have been foolhardy for him to have attempted to capture the booze weighted man with his bare hands.

The street was filled with an excited crowd as the reserves arrived from the police station. The motorcycle policeman waited at the curb. Following a hurried consultation, a squad of policemen attempted to rush the room in which the man had barricaded himself. This move was met by a round of shots. The attacking party retreated to cover in great disorder.

Stationing guards in a circle around the house outside to prevent escape, police sharpshooters were detailed to adjacent rooftops to fire through the windows. In a few seconds pistols were popping from all directions. The crowd scattered from the streets, only to gather again a short distance away.

The siege was on in dead earnest. Police lines were drawn to keep the foolhardy out of danger. Every available policeman was on the scene in response to two more alarms. Commanding officers called another council of war. They were in a quandary as to what methods to employ.

The man was securely barricaded in the room. He had at least three revolvers and apparently an unlimited supply of ammunition. Crazed with moonshine whiskey, he was a raving maniac with but one purpose: to sell his life as dearly as possible, killing as many as he could before he himself was killed.

Chief of Police Thomas Flynn arrived on the scene as several of the policemen were making preparations to blow up the building. The police official brought gas grenades filled with noxious vapors. These grenades had been included in the police equipment for some time but had never before been used.

They were quickly put to the test. One of the charged missiles was fitted into the barrel of a rifle. Lifting the weapon to his shoulder, one of the crack shots of the Police Department took careful aim and fired. There was a sharp report, the sound of breaking glass. The grenade had fallen in the room.

But the first tear-gas bomb had failed to explode, and it was hurled back at the police themselves by the fugitive, who shrieked with maniacal laughter.

The second bomb scored a perfect hit, and a few moments later, the maniac lurched through the broken window, groping and clutching at thin air. His hands were empty. He managed to reach the fire escape a few feet away, where he collapsed.

The fire escape was quickly lowered and two policemen pulled the gunman, bleeding and choking, to the street. In about ten minutes, when the effects of the gas had worn off, he was handcuffed and on his way to Police Headquarters. He was unharmed except for a wound in the shoulder, received early in the bombardment.

As a sequel to this episode, Martin Chaj, a Lithuanian, is serving a sentence in the Pennsylvania State Penitentiary.

This thrilling battle is one of scores involving the use of tear gas to combat crime. Gen. [Smedley] Butler [EN2] is using it to rout thugs in his spectacular drive to clean up Philadelphia. Nevada contemplates using it as a method of executing criminals. [EN3]

Tear gas is demonstrated to be the most efficient weapon for subduing vicious criminals, declare police officials. There is not a mob, they assert, that will stand up against it. No criminal, no matter how desperate, can successfully combat it. [EN4] Many cases are on record where thugs and bandits have been quickly reduced to absolute and abject submission through its use.

As a protector, tear gas will be numbered among the most effective modern methods in society’s ceaseless warfare against its human enemies. Devices are being successfully operated, which utilize it to guard valuables more securely than any other means. Banks throughout the country are installing these appliances.

The bank safes are equipped with gas jackets. These outer shells, containing lachrymatory fumes, must be pierced in forcing an entrance into the safe. Once released, these gases will render a bandit temporarily helpless and so insure his capture. These protecting devices are also being installed in jewelry stores and cashiers’ cages in great industrial establishments. [EN5]

There are innumerable other uses of those chemical watchdogs, devices such as protecting payroll satchels, pay cars on railroads, and maintaining law and order in industrial plants where labor trouble develops violence. A gas pistol having he appearance of an ordinary revolver but which shoots gas bullets is being used. The gun is capable of projecting tear gas over a wide area without exposing the marksman.

Other instances in which the gas has proved its worth as an effective weapon of defense and offense against criminals are too numerous to catalog, but here are a few illustrative instances.

A few days ago two Detroit detectives attired in civilian clothes were assigned to arrest an alleged bigamist. When they approached the house in which he resided, the man opened fire on them. Thinking the sight of a uniform might calm him, they summoned two uniformed policemen, but he fired at them also. A call was sent to Headquarters for the "Flyer." The "Flyer" is a high powered automobile equipped with the tear gas appliances. Three grenades were tossed through the windows and Mr. Bigamist promptly surrendered. [EN6]

In Hinton, W. Va., an insane man after nearly killing his father and brother, barricaded himself in his home, then killed a deputy sheriff who went to the door to arrest him and mortally wounded another deputy. The state constabulary was called but the maniac held them at bay for twelve days. A salesman of the gas bombs appeared on the scene and easily captured the madman with the use of three grenades.

A crowd of thirty foreigners were held at bay and subdued during a riot in a Pennsylvania town, twenty-one of them being arrested by a lone policeman with a gas gun. The officer marched the helpless rioters to the police station single handed.

In Chicago, a desperado was slain after holding sixty armed policemen at bay for hours. He was routed with tear gas after upward of 1,000 bullets had been fired into the cottage in which he had taken refuge.

Another whiskey-crazed man, in Pittsburgh, leaped from a third story when a grenade was tossed over the transom into his room.

A tear gas device routed safe blowers in a little Illinois town who had chiseled their way into the bank’s vaults, thus releasing the noxious vapors of this latest instrument of combating crime. They were compelled to flee, leaving behind a complete set of burglar’s tools.

Then there was the crazed guest in the Hotel Sherman, Chicago, who was captured after he had fired forty shots through the door at a squad of policemen. He was quickly placed hors-du-combat when Chief of Detective Hughes sent two gas grenades through the transom.

Three notorious safe blowers were captured without a struggle in an Indiana town while attempting to rob a bank. They were rendered helpless when the gas jacket which encased the safe spit forth its charge of tear gas.

The bandit proof bank messenger’s satchel is the latest invention among the many tear gas devices. The bag is equipped inside with two brass tubes containing cartridges packed with tear gas. There are three openings from each tube through the leather bag, two of which are outlet holes through which gas is projected.

A surprise attack by bandits, or snatching of the bag by thieves, simply results in setting off the gas, and a dense cloud of the chemical compound rolls forth in the face of every one within twenty feet of the spot, with the almost instantaneous result that these persons are rendered temporarily blind and experience a choking sensation. The bank messenger, having advance knowledge of what is coming, has opportunity to retire from range before the tear gas belches forth.

Then there are the policemen’s maces, or clubs, equipped with gas cylinders so that the tear-provoking vapor can be loosed at will in any direction over a range of fifty feet. There is also the heavier type of gas gun for use against mobs and rioters. [EN7]

"If the Chicago Police Department had been equipped with gas bombs, the recent race riot would never have occurred, a riot that cost sixty-six lives," declared Chief of Detectives Michael Hughes. [EN8]

"During the recent Stock Yards strike," continued the Chief, "the bombs halted a mob of several thousand men, women and children and put them to rout without a shot being fired. They are without equal in handling rioters and preventing violence." [EN9]

"Since I have been a member of the Police Department a score of brave policemen have been killed by criminals or maniacs barricaded in houses. Now, with the advent of the tear-gas bomb, it is no longer necessary even to risk their lives to make arrests."

Chicago’s famous detective chief then told of how he used tear gas on a recalcitrant prisoner from whom he sought a confession.

"It was more than successful," he commented, "but I’ll never do it again. It was too pitiful." [EN10]

The prisoner was not injured, however, as the effect of the gas wears off in from ten to fifteen minutes, leaving no apparent harmful effects. The gas, however, temporarily blinds the victim, causing him to weep copiously and to sneeze spasmodically. In this manner the culprit is rendered helpless, and after a few minutes, when the gas has cleared away, the smarting eyes are relieved and the prisoner is safely under control, without being wounded or otherwise hurt.

The gas used is technically called chloroacetaphenone, and it was discovered by Lieut. R. B. Lawrence, in charge of gas operations in France during the war. [EN11] This officer heads the American concern manufacturing the gas and the devices for employing it.

Lieut. Lawrence tear-gas inventions have been adopted by the New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh Police Departments, among the larger cities, and by hundreds of smaller communities. They are also used by the Pennsylvania and New York Central Lines, the National City Bank of New York and the Carnegie Steel Company of Pittsburgh. They form part of the equipment of every penitentiary in the country.

"Tear gas is now as necessary," says Chief Hughes, "as are revolvers."

The slogan of the domestic gas companies, "You Can Do It Better With Gas," would seem to apply with equal force to the tear gas industry in its modern uses to combat crime and disorder.


EN1. This is incorrect. During August 1915, the Germans used tear gases ("T-stoff") as chemical weapons on the Eastern Front. This was not because they were interested in reducing Russian casualties, but because they needed to figure out how to deliver chemical weapons using artillery. Once this was learned, then they used shells that delivered toxic agents such as phosgene and mustard. In addition, tear gases are not risk-free weapons. Short-term injuries associated with their use include contact edema and second-degree burns while long-term injuries include necrosis of the eyeball and an increased incidence of skin cancer. Incidences of death also have been documented.

EN2. "Philadelphia was to hold the National Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1926 and Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick wanted to sanitize the city, so he appealed directly to President Coolidge to allow the celebrated General Butler to lead the cleanup. Butler took command on January 1, 1925, and within two days had ordered raids on more than nine hundred speakeasies and instituted vast shifts in police personnel. Soon Butler’s war on bootleggers, prostitutes, gamblers, and corrupt cops was attracting national attention… Unfortunately, General Butler did not have the cooperation of an uninspired police force still controlled by powerful political bosses and mobsters, so the speakeasies always reopened. Elected judges were not overzealous in their support of Butler either: of 6,000 people arrested during one campaign, only 200 were found guilty. Finally, he did the unthinkable, raiding and padlocking the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the Union League, the preferred establishments of the social elite of Philadelphia. The next week the Mayor fired Butler for ‘overreacting.’ General Butler lamented that ‘cleaning up Philadelphia was worse than any battle I was ever in.’ Nonetheless, a City Hall plaque in his honor reads ‘He enforced the law impartially; he defended it courageously; he proved incorruptible.’" From Seventy’s Police Department Governance Study, 2002,

EN3. The author is apparently confusing bromobenzenecyanide (the tear gas known as CA) with hydrogen cyanide, which is what Nevada used to execute the Chinese-born Gee Jon during the world’s first execution by lethal gas, on February 8, 1924. (In that particular case, the Nevada executioner pumped the gas into the prisoner’s cell, but that method didn’t work well and subsequent US executions used purpose-built gas chambers.)

EN4. Because of elevated tolerances to pain, people who are drunk or on drugs are relatively resistant to the initial effects of chemical weapons. Consequently, they are at greater risk of serious injury from them.

EN5. During the 1930s, manufacturers of safes with built-in tear gas dispensers included Diebold, a company whose chairman from 1944-1951 was none other than Eliot Ness. However, because tear gas becomes unstable after several years in storage, such devices have become rare. For photos of the glass cylinders used in old safes, see There is also a mention of the devices at

EN6. Other Detroit police "flyers" of the 1920s included the world’s first radio-dispatched patrol car. For details, see and

EN7. Descriptions of some chemical weapons of the era include the following:

  1. A tear gas pen is described in a Pennsylvania court case, namely Scurfield v. Federal Laboratories, 335 Pa. 145 (1939). To wit: "The statement of claim alleged that defendant [Federal Laboratories] is the manufacturer of a so-called tear gas gun, so made as to resemble a fountain pen. It sold one of them to Daniel Vollmer, a florist. The sale was made by an agent of defendant. Vollmer purchased it for the purpose of defending himself and his property against persons who might attempt to rob him, upon the representation made by the agent that the tear gas would not permanently injure or harm the human body, but, on the contrary, would produce burning sensations or irritations of a harmless character, enduring not- more than twenty-four hours. On the side of the instrument there was an attachment resembling a clasp, which was in reality a trigger, controlling the discharge of a cartridge, thereby inducing the emission of the tear gas. Plaintiff, while lawfully in the shop of Vollmer, upon a business mission, believing the contrivance which was exposed in the store was a fountain pen, was examining or inspecting it and was injured thereby." (That is, he sprayed himself in the face, thereby injuring his eyes.)
  2. In April 2002, Timothy D. Gilbert wrote to ask about a gas baton that he described as follows: "On the butt is pressed/punched in PITTSBURGH. PA. U. S. A. FEDERAL LABORATORIES. INC. On the side, below the push-button trigger: PAT. SEPT. 15, 1925 DEC. 15, 1925 DEC. 29, 1925 … It is shaped like a billy-club, made of solid brass with leather strapping around the ‘weapons end’. It unscrews about 1/3 the way up the handle for loading of some type of cartridge (measures for about a 24 gage shell; centerfire with an opening at the end about the size of at 32 cal.). There is a bar inside blocking the opening at the end. There is a cocking, pull rod on the butt of the piece and a safety that slides over the push-button trigger. The firing spring and pin appear to be made of stainless steel. The entire piece is about nine inches in length."
  3. Finally, for a photo of a Manville 18-shot tear gas gun used by the National Guard and other strike-breaking agencies, see In 2002, the retail price of a Manville gas gun was about US $3,500.
EN8. Without taking anything from the horror of the 1919 riots, recent scholarship lists 15 whites and 23 blacks killed, and 178 whites and 342 blacks injured. See, for instance, Robert Gibson’s "The Negro Holocaust" at and Scott Newman’s "Jazz Age Chicago" at

EN9. This statement probably alludes to the failed strike of December 1921. For some background, see,, and

EN10. Although this might sound like a violation of the suspect’s rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, Constitutional guarantees did not extend to state, county, or city courts until Malloy_v_Hogan (1964). In addition, it is possible that the Bill of Rights does not prohibit the use of coercive police tactics during questioning. Instead, it may simply limit the use of evidence obtained via such tactics in court. See, for example, Chavez v. Martinez, U.S. Supreme Court case 01-1444. For the Attorney General’s argument in this case, see For the ACLU’s counter-argument, see (Both the Attorney General and the ACLU presented their cases as amici curiae, or friends of the court.)

EN11. During the 1860s, German chemists developed bromobenzenecyanide, or CA, and chloroacetophenone, or CN. As noted above, the Germans used CA as a chemical weapon in Russia in 1915. However, CN was not used as a training or riot control agent in the United States until 1923. Major US manufacturers in those days included Maryland’s Edgewood Arsenal, Pittsburgh’s Federal Laboratories, and Ohio’s Lake Erie Chemical. Chemical MACE, introduced by Lake Erie Chemical (at the time, a division of Smith & Wesson) in 1962, is a CN compound delivered via aerosol spray rather than combustion. The other common tear gas, orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile, did not enter use as a chemical weapon until the late 1950s. It takes its common name, CS, from the initials of the chemists Benjamin Corson and Roger Stoughton, who first introduced it in 1928.

JNC Jan 2003