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.

Hatter (Alice’s Adventures 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)

8 thoughts on “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.”

  1. paintedcactus

    The world used to be a scary place, man.

  2. HardPawns

    According to wikipedia, the expression ‘[mad as a hatter](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_as_a_hatter)’ “is believed to emanate from Luton, Bedfordshire, in eastern England, where men in the area worked predominantly in the hattery business”.

  3. Mobius_Peverell

    Mercury *salts,* it should be noted. Elemental mercury is reasonably safe, so there’s no need to evacuate the building when a fluorescent tube or thermometer breaks.

  4. PotBuzz

    I once owned a Mercury Sable.
    Can confirm the brain damage.
    I think. Wait…
    Maybe it was a Ford Taurus.
    I forget.

  5. A_Level_2

    The messed up thing is that people still use similarly dangerous products without adequate protection in places like the developing world since regulations aren’t followed and there’s no enforcement if there are regs in place. Workers also just don’t know any better and damage takes years to show

    Stuff like pesticides sprayed while wearing shorts type of bad

  6. CoomCilia

    Makes me wonder what stuff we use that will be seen as crazy

  7. TreehouseTango

    S Town is an excellent serial mystery podcast about a man suffering the effects of mercury poisoning.

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