History of Breathalysers
Ok, we are going to label this one under the ‘fun’ category 🙂 Maybe you are looking to research breathalysers for a school project. Maybe you are bored at work and just want something interesting to read. Or maybe you are a breathalyser nerd and want to know every little detail about them. Either way, we are sure you will find this article interesting?
Who invented the breathalyser?
Wind back the clock for a minute, try to picture how things were in the 1950’s. Before cars, being drunk wasn’t so much of a big deal, other than the fact you could make a public nusiance of yourself, it wasn’t really considered a crime to be drunk. However once cars started to become more and more prevalent, the need to be able to detect if someone had consumed alcohol also became more important.
Work began on developing what would become a ‘breathalyser’ back in the 1920’s. A doctor by the name of Dr Emil Bogen produced a study on how to determine if someone was intoxicated. The study, performed in 1927, utilised urine, blood and even someone’s breath to determine their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). This was new for the time as blood testing was the only other mechanism used for such tests.
The first serious scientific work on mechanizing the determination of whether someone was driving drunk took place in the 1920s. A doctor and researcher in Los Angeles by the name of Dr Emil Bogen conducted a landmark study in 1927 on how to scientifically determine inebriation. By this time it was fairly well-established that testing blood gave you a solid idea of how drunk a person might be. But by testing urine, blood, and breath, Bogen found that the latter could indeed function as a reliable estimator for blood alcohol content (BAC).
The first breath test that Dr Emil Bogen developed used, wait for a it, a large football shaped balloon that contained two important chemicals, sulphuric acid and potassium dichromate. The person being tested would exhale into the balloon and if it changed colour from yellow to blue/green it would mean that a certain level of alcohol had been consumed.
To answer the question specifically, the first breathalyser was invented by Robert F. Borkenstein in 1954. He was actually working as a police photographer (since 1936) and developed quite an interest in drink driving crimes. He had been working as a police photographer at the Indiana Police Lab.
Robert F Borkenstein’s invention allowed for a huge advancement in breathalyser technology. He was able to develop a solution which no longer required large balloons and bladders or the mixing of different chemicals. Basically, his invention became a part of the police officers arsenal.
Borkenstein sadly passed away at the age 89 in 2002.
Did anyone else try to invent a breath test device?
In summary, yes. A gentleman from Chicago, USA named W.D McNally also performed a lot of testing and development work towards what we know today as a breathalyser. Back then, they were referred to as breath analyzers. W.D McNally was a chemist by trade and whilst he used the same type of method as that which was developed by Dr Emil Bogen (blowing into a balloon), he did have some minor differences in his devices.