dr. who?

the history & lore of the plague doctor

the doctor is in... but will you survive?

Doctor Who? The History & Lore of The  Plague Doctor …

July 16, 2018 Audrey W.

The history of the plague doctors dates as far back as 500 AD.  As you know modern medicine has come a loooong way since then. However, it took both legitimate and some scary characters to make these advances in medical practice. 

During epidemics such as the plague,  doctors struggled to figure out what was wrong with their patients and how to treat them successfully. Unfortunately, aseptic techniques were not yet discovered and oftentimes the doctors themselves aided in the spread of diseases.  

The doctors themselves worried about catching the maladies in which they were hired to treat and devised their own style of “protective” gear. This resulted in a distinctive & terrifying appearance. In 1619 Charles D’lorme depicted the plague doctor look we see in steampunk masks and outfits today. 


Historically plague doctors covered themselves from from head to toe in various layers of clothing and gear in an attempt to keep disease at bay.  The most distinctive feature of their appearance was a mask that they constructed which contained herbs and/or incense believed to help fight infection.  

Putrid air was thought to be the cause of the common plague back in the day. Therefore these masks acted like a respirator placing a protective barrier between their airways and the diseased air. Oftentimes the doctors continued to add more and more ingredients to these face masks which sometimes protruded from the head in such a way to resemble a birds beak. 

So Why Do We See the Plague Doctor in Steampunk?

The literary genre of Steampunk often includes characters that were masks such as ship captains, mad scientists /inventors airship pirates.  We must remember modern technology was terrifying to the masses when it was first introduced. There are alot of great steampunk TV Shows that portray the introduction of technologies and how people reacted, you may want to check them out. 

Therefore the connection between technological devices and/or mechanisms & the fear of being treated by a doctor became intertwined. The Plague Doctor was the 19th century boogie man – although considering all the experimental operations & autopsies performed during that era I would be scared too. 

 One thing that enforced the stereotype of the plague doctor is the fact that as scientists and objects of terror from their time in the 19th century was that they were given permission to perform autopsies in hopes of finding a cure for the plague.

The Plague Doctor Today

Ironically the first medical respiratory device for those with breathing problems like pilots in WWII was created by Dr. Forrest Bird. As time evolved many people began to connect gas masks & respirators to that of the plague doctor masks; understandably as they have similar terrifying places in history. 

We see plague doctor masks and respirators / ventilators in modern movies today such as Batman Dark Knight & Wonder Woman. Usually worn by the villain or wrong doer they reinforce the terror of the ancient plague doctors. 

-Audrey W.

Nerd | Entrepreneur | Blogger

*Special Thanks to my friends at Dieselpunk Ro for allowing me to display their products in this blog and on our site 🙂

Check Out This Awesome DIY Plague Doctor Mask by Dieselpunk Ro!

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