Flashback: Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum shows history of breathalyzer technology

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SEATTLE METROPOLITAN POLICE MUSEUM —
Police in our state started using breathalyzer technology in the 1930’s.

Officer Jim Ritter with the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum has more as we debut a new Washington’s Most Wanted segment on the history of law enforcement called “Police Flashback.”

“Now that we’re entering the holiday season it’s important for you to realize that if you drink and drive, the end result may be jail,” says Ofc. Ritter. “Prior to the 1930’s police officers determined your level of alcohol content in your body by talking to the police physician who was a doctor hired by the police department to determine how drunk you really were.”

“In 1937, the Harger Drunkometer was invented. A very scientific device which required you to blow up a balloon. The air from your mouth that went into the balloon would go in these tubes and turn purple as a result. If the tubes turned purple, you’d be going to jail.”

“In 1963, the Smith and Wesson Breathalyzer machine was invented. This was a very mechanical device which I used as a young officer. It required me to do a lot of different things in a very short period of time. I would have to break a vial of sulfuric acid, put it in the machine. I would have to make the machine analyze that, turn knobs, have the person blow. This was back in the day when your blood alcohol was a 1.0 or more would get you to jail.”

“In 1986, we switched from the breathalyzer to the BAC data master. In this case, the person was required to blow two samples into the tube. The machine would process it and the officers would plug in your information, insert the ticket and send the results from this test directly to Olympia.

In addition to these machines, officers on the streets carry preliminary breath test machines. These determine whether the person will be brought to the police station or not. The officer will have you blow into the tube, he will set the mark and determine whether your over a .08 or even close to it. The bottom line is if you don't drink and drive, you have nothing to worry about.”

“It's fascinating looking back at these changes in police technology over the last 60 years.

We basically just want to keep everybody safe and these machines help us do that.”

If you have questions about law enforcement history, email Ofc. Ritter at smpmuseum@aol.com

To find out more about the museum, go to seametropolicemuseum.org