Formaldehyde Room Disinfectors
From issue 31
Richard Van Vleck
The practice of disinfecting sickrooms in the wake of an epidemic led to the invention of a variety of devices for generating formaldehyde gas. Formaldehyde proved safer and less troublesome than corrosive sublimate, chlorine gas or sulfur dioxide.
One early method of generating formaldehyde gas was to pour formalin over potassium permanganate in an insulated, funnel-shaped container. A violent reaction ensued, quickly filling the room with formaldehyde gas. The operator had little time to flee the room and seal the door behind him.
The Novy Formaldehyde Generator combined the effectiveness of boiling a 37% formaldehyde solution with the safety of an enclosed system in which the generator was outside the room to be disinfected and the gas was delivered into the room by means of a tube placed through the keyhole.
The portable formaldehyde generator illustrated at the right is marked "The Max Wocher & Son Co., Cincinnati". We have also had an almost identical generator marked "Lentz". The copper retort is fitted with an inclined outlet, causing any solution regurgitated into the neck to run back into the vessel. The inlet consists of a funnel, a valve and a long stem within the boiler to prevent gas from escaping when the valve is opened. Additional formaldehyde can thus be added while the generator is in use. Five ounces of formaldehyde were used for each 1000 cubic feet of room space. The Optimus burner provided a circular flame which was claimed to heat the edge of the boiler more than the center, causing the liquid to rise at the sides and descend in the center, preventing regirgitation up the outlet tube.
Solid paraformaldehyde pastils became available to be heated in a variety of special burners. Schering's 1899 patented formalin lamp used their pastils and was marketed as "The Home Purifier". It was also recommended for disinfecting railroad cars. Another popular formalin vaporiser was patented by George Leininger and manufactured by the International Chemical Co. of Chicago. Dr. Leininger's room disinfector consisted of a nickel plated copper boiler mounted on a nickel plated brass cylinder. A spirit lamp mounted under the pot provided heat to vaporise the paraformaldehyde.
© 1997, 2001, American Artifacts, Taneytown, MD.
Contact: Richard Van Vleck