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Mercury: Reason for using it in hat making ???

eblc1388

Active Member
Why is it necessary to use mercury in hat making? Does it do something to the leather?
 

Nigel Goodwin

Super Moderator
Most Helpful Member
eblc1388 said:
Why is it necessary to use mercury in hat making? Does it do something to the leather?
Is it still used?.

Historically it was the cause of the phrase "as mad as a hatter", but I've always presumed it's not been used for a great many years now? (not that I've got any great interest in hat making :lol: ).
 

eblc1388

Active Member
The question came up in BBC "Test the Nation -English" as what make the hatter crazy?

Like you said mercury is the answer but I would like to know why. After Googleling for a while, I got what look like a plausible answer:

Source: hat making industry

The production process involved using a mercury compound, mercury nitrate, to remove fur from pelts and turn it into felt more easily. Abraham Lincoln's famous beaver stovepipe hats were made in this fashion.

Hat makers, exposed to large amounts of vaporized mercury, began to experience its effects on their nervous systems. Doctors even recorded seeing "holes the size of quarters" inside some hatters' brains.
 

Nigel Goodwin

Super Moderator
Most Helpful Member
eblc1388 said:
The question came up in BBC "Test the Nation -English" as what make the hatter crazy?

Like you said mercury is the answer but I would like to know why.
I didn't see it, my daughter had a gig last night - although I usually watch the "Test the nation" programmes.

As with most questions, a simple google soon finds the answer:

"Few people who use the phrase today realise that there’s a story of human suffering behind it; the term actually derives from an early industrial occupational disease. Felt hats were once very popular in North America and Europe; an example is the top hat. The best sorts were made from beaver fur, but cheaper ones used furs such as rabbit instead.
A complicated set of processes was needed to turn the fur into a finished hat. With the cheaper sorts of fur, an early step was to brush a solution of a mercury compound—usually mercurous nitrate—on to the fur to roughen the fibres and make them mat more easily, a process called carroting because it made the fur turn orange. Beaver fur had natural serrated edges that made this unnecessary, one reason why it was preferred, but the cost and scarcity of beaver meant that other furs had to be used.
Whatever the source of the fur, the fibres were then shaved off the skin and turned into felt; this was later immersed in a boiling acid solution to thicken and harden it. Finishing processes included steaming the hat to shape and ironing it. In all these steps, hatters working in poorly ventilated workshops would breathe in the mercury compounds and accumulate the metal in their bodies.
We now know that mercury is a cumulative poison that causes kidney and brain damage. Physical symptoms include trembling (known at the time as hatter’s shakes), loosening of teeth, loss of co-ordination, and slurred speech; mental ones include irritability, loss of memory, depression, anxiety, and other personality changes. This was called mad hatter syndrome.
It’s been a very long time since mercury was used in making hats, and now all that remains is a relic phrase that links to a nasty period in manufacturing history. But mad hatter syndrome remains common as a description of the symptoms of mercury poisoning."
 

eblc1388

Active Member
Yeah. Many people like leather and fur products but few know about the process in the back to make them available.

Without that BBC question, I guess I would never Google such information.
 

Nigel Goodwin

Super Moderator
Most Helpful Member
eblc1388 said:
Yeah. Many people like leather and fur products but few know about the process in the back to make them available.
Often it's best if you don't know :lol:

If you ever happen to be in Nottingham there's an attraction called 'The Caves of Nottingham', which is underneath the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. The caves were used as bomb shelters during WW2, but have been used for various purposes over the centuries - including leather making. It's best if you don't know about the bodily wastes involved in curing leather :lol:

Incidently, human urine has many, many uses, including the manufacture of explosives as well!.

Without that BBC question, I guess I would never Google such information.
It's a long standing quiz question, I think your youth is against you 8)
 

zachtheterrible

Active Member
And I always thought "mad as a hatter" came from alice in wonderland :lol:
 

solidhelix

Member
Incidently, human urine has many, many uses, including the manufacture of explosives as well!.
What component in the human urine that is necessary in building an explosive???

I also thought that "mad hatter" came from alice in wonderland...
 

Nigel Goodwin

Super Moderator
Most Helpful Member
solidhelix said:
Incidently, human urine has many, many uses, including the manufacture of explosives as well!.
What component in the human urine that is necessary in building an explosive???
I believe it's nitrates?.

I also thought that "mad hatter" came from alice in wonderland...
Other way round :lol:
 

HiTech

Well-Known Member
uric acid is also used in some skin lotions that women buy on store shelves... furthering the notion that some women do get pissed on by society.
 

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