Pepper Spray History: A Guide

capsicum pepper spray

Q: Can you name something occurring in nature that can both cause and relieve pain? 

A: The answer is capsaicin.

Naturally occurring in some peppers, capsaicin was developed as a defense mechanism that kept animals from eating the plants. When humans encountered these plants, they began eating them for fun and found new uses for the chemical inside.

One such innovation was pepper spray, a self-defense tool that launches a capsaicin-based substance at the attacker. That's just one condensed bit of pepper spray history. The full story is a lot more complex, and we'll discuss it in more detail in this article.

The Invention of Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is a fairly recent invention, but the idea of using peppers as a weapon is a few thousand years old, going back to Ancient China and India, where people would fling bits of peppers into the eyes of attackers.

Capsaicin was also weaponized in the Americas, where they also grew naturally but in a slightly different way. The Aztecs, for instance, would often throw peppers into a fire to create an airborne irritant.

Pepper spray history, as we know it, began in the early 1960s when a young inventor named Alan Litman heard about a mugging and consulted with his wife about how to protect themselves.

The idea they settled on was a portable spray that could stop attackers without killing them. They agreed it had to be chemical, but weren't sure which chemicals to use. They eventually settled on a chemical mixture that the US Army had already weaponized.

However, the army used it on a larger scale, so there wasn't a portable form of it. There had been attempts to create such a device before Litman's, but most of them were imprecise and unpopular.

Law and Disorder

The early history of pepper spray occurred during the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Before it ever became a civilian tool, police were using it against protestors and rioters.

Unfortunately, the first pepper spray laws for cops weren't created until 1985, when Tennessee vs Garner established the burden of deadly force. Before then, a cop was free to decide for themselves when deadly force was warranted.

This same case also addressed non-lethal force and ruled that even non-lethal measures like pepper spray could only be used when suspects were violent or resisting arrest.

Pepper Spray Becomes A Personal Defense Option

In the early 1980’s Zarc International, Inc. introduced the first portable pepper spray using its proprietary “capsicum pepper technology”. This product was quickly embraced by military and law enforcement agencies as a safe and effective non-lethal weapon. Today, Pepper Spray is used by millions of people across the globe as their personal defense device of choice.

Please check out the links below to learn more.