History of Masks

In the last few months, there have been a number of incorrect reports by the media on the origins of N95 and other masks.

There are two technologies that led to the development of today’s N95 and surgical masks.  The first was the meltblowing technology which can produce very small fibers compared to other processes.  Two structure attributes are critical for filtration.  These are solidity (1 – porosity) and fiber size.  Meltblowing is a very economical, large-scale process that creates fibers that can be sub-micron.

The second critical technology was the development of electrostatic charging which enhances the particle capture efficiency of filters which leads to significantly lower pressure drops.  Other critical technologies that were developed focused on ensuring that the charge density is hih and more importantly, stable.

The first key patent was due to 3M in 1980 when a meltblown structure was electrostatically charged to form a high efficiency, electric filter.  And, in 1985, 3M developed the first molded respirator.


The meltblowing technology extends back to 1941 when the process was invented.  The key events are outlined below:

1941 Meltblowing invented
1951 Key Patent by Naval Research Laboratory
1965 First 10-inch Melt Blowing line (Exxon) – the so-called Exxon Die
1971 First Commercial Line – U.S.
1972 First US Manufacturing (Accurate Products)
1973-5 First Seven Practitioners – U.S.
1974 First Japanese Practitioner (Tonen)
1989 First REICOFIL MB Line

The first mask was in 1967, while the first respirator was patented in 1976.  A key development was the application of electrostatic charge to meltblown webs in 1980.  The key patents leading to the current charged N95 respirators soon followed.  Some of the early key inventions are listed below:

3,333,585 1967 Robert J Barghini, Walter M Westberg, Patrick H Carey Jr, “Cold weather face mask”, assigned to 3M
3,971,373A 1976 David L. Braun, “Particle-loaded microfiber sheet product and respirators made therefrom”, assigned to 3M Co
4,215,682A 1980 Donald A. Kubik & Charles I. Davis, “Melt-blown fibrous electrets”, assigned to 3M Co
4,536,440A 1985 Harvey J. Berg, “Molded fibrous filtration products”, published 1985-08-20, issued 1985-08-20, assigned to 3M
4,807,619 1989 James F. Dyrud, Harvey J. Berg, Alice C. Murray, “Resilient shape-retaining fibrous filtration face mask”, assigned to 3M
4,850,347 1989 Martin R. Skov, “Face mask”, assigned to Moldex Metric Inc
4,856,509 1989 Jerome H. Lemelson, “Face mask and method”
5,307,796A 1994 Joseph P. Kronzer, Roger J. Stumo, James F. Dyrud, Harvey J. Berg, “Methods of forming fibrous filtration face masks”, assigned to 3M

The top inventors in this field are:

Inventor No. of Patents
Duffy, D.R. 44
Henderson, C.P. 50
Angadjivand, S.A. 39
Dyrud, J.F. 20
Martin, P.G. 31
Houde, A.Y. 25
Jones, M.E. 36
Brunson, K.K. 30
Curran, D.T. 54
Gebrewold, Y. 21

One of NWI’s students, Angela Angela D’Orio is completing her Ph.D. on patent intelligence and is focusing on facemasks and disinfecting wipes.  She will be graduating in December 2020.  Her work will be available soon after her graduation.  If you have an interest in learning more, please contact us by email.