Several texts on the history of chemical warfare mention the story that in May 1924 the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) treated President Calvin Coolidge for a severe cold with chlorine. For example:

In May 1924 the CWS sealed President Calvin Coolidge into a gas chamber and pumped in low levels of chlorine gas to cure his cold. After 45 minutes inside the chamber, Coolidge emerged and returned to work.

(T. I. Faith, Under a Green Sea: The US Chemical Warfare Service 1917–1929, Dissertation submitted to The George Washington University, May 18, 2008)

In all relevant texts that I have found, the original source of this story is the newspaper article “Army’s Chlorine Gas Helps Coolidge’s Cold; He Spends 45 Minutes in Air-Tight Room”, The New York Times, May 21, 1924, Page 1.

The CWS organized and financed various publicity campaigns in order to prove their importance; however, such a potentially dangerous publicity stunt seems to be excessive since it was known that exposure to chlorine could cause damage to one’s health, including delayed pulmonary oedema. This makes me doubt whether the story is absolutely true. Could the newspaper article be exaggerated in any way? Are there any other references for this story?

  • 9
    Wait, did chlorine really cure his cold? Aside from the side effects of breathing it, I'm skeptical that it could do that...
    – Michael
    May 19, 2016 at 22:26
  • 4
    @Michael "VALUE OF CHLORIN IN THE TREATMENT OF COLDS " JAMA. 1925;84(22):1629-1632 jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=235758 is considered to have disproven the effectiveness of chlorine treatments
    – DavePhD
    May 20, 2016 at 1:04

1 Answer 1


Yes, President Coolidge was treated in a sealed room with chlorine gas on 3 consecutive days (May 20-22, 1924).

On the second day he brought his wife into the room even though she wasn't sick. He liked the treatment so much he is quoted by American Review vol. 71 as saying to Bishop Anderson:

You must go down and take a chlorine treatment. I recently cured a bad cold in that manner and I know you will be relieved

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Col. M.A. DeLaney, U.S.A., the man who has been treating Pres. Coolidge on May 22nd while the Pres. was in the air-tight room receiving the chlorine gas treatment for his cold. Col. DeLaney is watching the apparatus that denotes the amount of gas being sent into the air-tight chamber

Source: US Library of Congress

In addition to the President, according to War and Nature :

In a room near the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Chemical Warfare Service gassed more than 750 people, including 23 senators and 146 representatives.

See also:

Poison Gases of War to Cure Human Ills, Popular Mechanics, September 1924, vol. 42, pages 353-354.

Coolidge Tries Chlorine Gas to Dispel Cold Chicago Tribune 21 May 1924, front page.

Coolidge Converted to Chlorine Gas Treatment Kentucky New Era 23 May 1924, front page.

Advertisement Stops Your Cold or Costs Nothing: Vapo Chlorine, the Genuine Home Chlorine Gas Chamber Set in Pittsburg Post Gazette , 17 February 1925.

Chlorine for Colds March 1925.

The Present Status of Chlorine Gas Therapy Trans Am Climatol Clin Assoc. 1925; 41: 203–216

Research refuting the effectiveness of such treatments was published in VALUE OF CHLORIN IN THE TREATMENT OF COLDS JAMA. 1925;84(22):1629-1632

  • 3
    @DavidGrinberg Over a three day period May 20-22, 1924, the president inhaled chlorine gas to help his cold. It was thought to be healthy at that time.
    – DavePhD
    May 19, 2016 at 14:16
  • 11
    @AE yes, "When breathing a concentration of 0.015 mgm. of chlorine per liter of air for one hour, which is the concentration and time used in treatment of cases, approximately 550 liters of air are inhaled and exhaled, containing approximately 2.5 cc. of pure gaseous chlorine. We have found by actual experiment that none of this chlorine is exhaled. Therefore, in the course of an hour from 2.5 to 3 cc. of chlorine is absorbed into the fluid of the respiratory tract." ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2262343
    – DavePhD
    May 19, 2016 at 14:42
  • 43
    So... does it work?
    – T. Verron
    May 19, 2016 at 15:25
  • 11
    But a cold is viral, not bacterial
    – DavePhD
    May 20, 2016 at 21:19
  • 6
    Exposure to chlorine gas can still render viruses ineffective. That's why drinking water systems treat water supplies with chlorine - it's a general disinfectant even at low concentrations: cdc.gov/safewater/effectiveness-on-pathogens.html
    – user16622
    May 22, 2016 at 21:10

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