The use of toxic chemicals as weapons dates back thousands of years, but the first large scale use of chemical weapons was during World War I.
They were primarily used to demoralize, injure, and kill entrenched defenders, against whom the indiscriminate and generally very slow-moving or static nature of gas clouds would be most effective.
The types of weapons employed ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas, to lethal agents like phosgene, chlorine, and mustard gas.
This chemical warfare was a major component of the first global war and first total war of the 20th century.
The killing capacity of gas was limited, with about ninety thousand fatalities from a total of 1.3 million casualties caused by gas attacks.
Gas was unlike most other weapons of the period because it was possible to develop countermeasures, such as gas masks.
In the later stages of the war, as the use of gas increased, its overall effectiveness diminished.
The widespread use of these agents of chemical warfare, and wartime advances in the composition of high explosives, gave rise to an occasionally expressed view of World War I as "the chemist's war" and also the era where weapons of mass destruction were created.
The use of poison gas by all major belligerents throughout World War I constituted war crimes as its use violated the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, which prohibited the use of "poison or poisoned weapons" in warfare.
Widespread horror and public revulsion at the use of gas and its consequences led to far less use of chemical weapons by combatants during World War II