Canaries in mines to detect gas

Probably most of us know the old story about miners taking canaries down into the mines to tell the miners when the lack of oxygen or concentration of gases was so severe that it was dangerous for humans, the theory being that the birdie croaked before a miner would.

While I could search the web for this, I’m having a lazy Sunday afternoon.

So, is the story true? When did it first originate? What country? What gas? Or was it lack of oxygen? Did they use canaries?

I did search the archives and the Message Board. Doesn’t seem to have been covered.

The practice started in Wales, I think. I’m feeling kind of lazy myself. Maybe I’ll search anyway, though.
Peace,
mangeorge

Well, that was fast;
http://www.msha.gov/CENTURY/canary/canary.htm
Nothing about possible foreign origins, though.
Peace,
mangeorge

When I lived in Japan in the 1950s we kept canaries (in our house, not in a mine) for this purpose. Went through a few of 'em, too.

Wow, what kind of toxic dump were you living on?

The natural gas hookups were not reliable. Keeping a couple of birds was common practice to let you know when you had a gas leak. I guess they didn’t use Mercaptan.

They did it here in West Virginia all the time.

I believe canaries are sensitive to Carbon monoxide, not just any gas.
http://www.pighealth.com/Scourse/lecture/lec0961/006.htm

Make that methane gas (also carbon monoxide which is poisonous to any anymal with hemoglobine in the blood). Methane is not poisonous to humans but is dangerous in mines as a cause of explosions. The canary in the mine was there as a precaution against explosions, not gas poisoning.