Hat-makers in the 19th century regularly used mercury in the manufacturing of felt hats, which caused a high rate of poisoning and led to neurological damage like slurred speech, memory loss, and tremors. This was the inspiration for the Mad Hatter character in Alice in Wonderland.
Mercury was used in the manufacturing of felt hats during the 19th century, causing a high rate of mercury poisoning among those working in the hat industry. Mercury poisoning causes neurological damage, including slurred speech, memory loss, and tremors, which led to the phrase “mad as a hatter”. In the Victorian age, many workers in the textile industry, including hatters, sometimes developed illnesses affecting the nervous system, such as central nervous system (CNS) tuberculosis, which is portrayed in novels like Alton Locke by Charles Kingsley and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, which Lewis Carroll had read. Many such workers were sent to Pauper Lunatic Asylums, which were supervised by Lunacy Commissioners such as Samuel Ga… Continue Reading (12 minute read)