Dräger Corporation founded
Central to the development of architectures of underwater or outer space was an understanding of the feedback loops required for the survival of human beings and the subsequent development of closed-loop life support systems. While the development of the supporting technologies for these concepts cannot be attributed to one corporation, the Dräger Corporation of Germany was central to this historical timeline, developing technologies allowing for the safe storage of compressed gases and high pressure controlled-release valves as well as closed-loop technologies such as carbon dioxide scrubbers.
Interestingly, this story begins with the beer industry. The Dräger Corporation of Lübeck (founded by Johann Heinrich Dräger) got its start in 1889 with a patent for a valve that allowed for the controlled release of carbon dioxide gas for beer taps. Johann Dräger’s son, Bernhard, is credited with the company’s motto, “Technology for Life,” and their extensive research into compressed oxygen technologies in the 1890s.
In 1899, the company released the oxygen/hydrogen (proportioning) machine and the Finimeter (high pressure gauge allowing reading of oxygen levels in a canister). Following the development of the oxygen/hydrogen, the Roth-Dräger anesthetic apparatus was released in 1902, which allowed for the first time the safe, precise proportioning of oxygen and ether during surgery. Previously, anesthesia was a frequent cause of death during surgery. Dräger also developed a breathing apparatus for use in disasters such as mining accidents, called the Model 1904/1909 respiratory protective device. In 1907 the company released the pulmotor, which was the first ventilator ever produced, allowing for pumping air into the lungs of those in need of resuscitation. This quickly led to the first semi-closed-loop diving dress with two oxygen cylinders and a carbon dioxide filter (alkaline cartridge). The diver could stay underwater for up to 40 minutes, untethered, unlike previous with previous diving dresses, which required an air supply hose connected to a ship. In 1926, a related device, the Closed Circuit Anesthetic Apparatus, was released. This device allowed for the recycling of laughing gas, expensive at the time, by scrubbing carbon dioxide from the patient’s exhaled air. Dräger continued to innovate to present day, releasing in 1947 the Iron Lung, a breathing apparatus for polio patients, in 1969 producing pressure chambers and gas supply for the Helgoland underwater research station, and in 1985 providing devices for use in the Skylab space station.
As we can begin to infer from this long, but not in any way exhaustive, list of inventions, the interest in closed-loop systems began with the desire to keep people alive in seemingly impossible situations, such as when there is a massive wound in the body (surgery or injury), in fires and mine accidents, and after a person has stopped breathing. Only with the development of certain supporting technologies, such as high-pressure devices, was the goal of a life-support system feasible. With the goal of life-support achieved, people could begin to have feasible fantasies about how people might be able to appropriate this technology to begin to inhabit hostile environments and do we see the architectural discourse begin to seriously consider the meaning of underwater or space settlements.
Drägerwerk AG & Co. KGaA. “The History of Dräger.” 2014. Dräger, Technology for Life. pdf. 2 May 2017.