Blow On This – The Breathalyzer Was Invented in Indiana
According to DrunkDrivingPrevention.com, citing a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 1.5 million people are arrested for driving under the influence in any given year. While some individuals driving under the influence are easier for law enforcement officers to spot than others based on visual cues such as having a hard time keeping their vehicle in its lane, anyone pulled over for suspected drinking and driving is administered a field sobriety test which includes the use of a device created right here in Indiana — the breathalyzer.
An Early Version of the Breathalyzer was Created by a Professor at Indiana University
According to McGill University's Office of Science and Society, the early form of the breathalyzer as we know it today was created by Dr. Rolla N. Harger, a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine in 1931. This early version, which Harger called the "Drunkometer" (which sounds more like a carnival game) used a chemical compound called, "acidified potassium permanganate" to determine if someone had been drinking. When the compound reacted with the alcohol in a person's breath, it would turn purple. The darker the purple, the more alcohol the person consumed.
Harger received a patent on his Drunkometer in 1936, and in 1938, the Indianapolis Police field tested it on New Year's Eve. No word on how many people ended up in handcuffs or rang in the new year in the old drunk tank that night.
The Evolution of the Drunkometer into the Breathalyzer
While Harger certainly got the ball rolling, it was another Indiana man who gave us the breathalyzer as we know it today. 15 years after the first successful test runs, Ft. Wayne native Robert F. Borkenstein, who had worked with Harger on the development of the Drunkometer, according to a 2002 New York Times article announcing his passing at the age of 89, tinkered with the concept and replaced the acidified potassium permanganate with potassium dichromate, and added photometer. The combination gave a more accurate blood-alcohol reading and smaller, making it easier for officers to use in the field.
The rest, as they say, is history.
It would be impossible to determine how many drunk driving-related deaths have been prevented thanks to the invention of the breathalyzer, but you have to think the possibility it has prevented some by getting intoxicated drivers off the roads certainly exists. And, that is all thanks to two men from right here in the Hoosier State.