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Mad Hatters

KILO NOVEMBER

Practically Family
Messages
969
Location
Hurricane Coast Florida
I see that mercury was finally banished from felting in 1941, at least that's what one on-line encyclopedia stated. To those of you who wear hats from years earlier than that, do you have any idea how much mercury leaks from your hats to your heads? I don't, and in general I disdain environmental fear mongering, but this has got me thinking.
 

buler

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,242
Location
Wisconsin
Wood alcohol was used in the stiffening process causing everything from blindness to death!


Buler's Hat Disposal
 

zetwal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,343
Location
Texas
KILO NOVEMBER said:
To those of you who wear hats from years earlier than that, do you have any idea how much mercury leaks from your hats to your heads? I don't, and in general I disdain environmental fear mongering, but this has got me thinking.

Don't chew or suck on your hat. As far as the other point, environmental degradation is a very real and very serious problem.
 

jpbales

Practically Family
Messages
507
Location
Georga, USA
I'm no scientist/chemist, but as far as I can tell only the hatters got mercury poisoning and only after a long time. I wouldn't suppose that there's enough mercury left in the hat to do noticeable harm to the wearer. [huh]
 

Torpedo

One Too Many
Messages
1,332
Location
Barcelona (Spain)
I would be glad to rid any of you of your pre-1941 hats if you are worried by the mercury problem.
Yes, I would do that. I am such a saintly character. :D
 

HarpPlayerGene

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,682
Location
North Central Florida
"Still Crazy After All These Years"

:p

As I understand it the mercury process was used when the fur was still on the hide at the early stages of the process of turning a fuzzy woodland creature into a hat. I am fairly sure that the many steps which would go into taking that fur and converting it into actual felt would eventually dilute or delete the chemical. Bad news for those back in the day who were involved in the early steps of felt making, but good news for us now.
 

barrowjh

One Too Many
Messages
1,398
Location
Maryville Tennessee
I agree with the earlier posts that there would be no effect (no adverse mercury impact) from the finished hat. I had read the madness was more associated with those that spent their 'career' in the felting process itself, particularly where the mercury was used in the 'carroting' step, as defined:

To make felt hats, they bathed animal fur in an orange-colored solution of mercury nitrate. This process, called carroting after the typical color of the fur being treated, helped make the stiff hairs more pliant, thereby producing a superior felt product. The felt could then be manipulated with steam to make finished hats of any desired shape and size.

But the act of carroting carried serious side effects. In the small but steamy confines of a hat-making plant, it was impossible not to inhale the mercury-laced vapors. As a result, most hatters ingested toxic levels of mercury, regardless whether or not they worked near the carroting vats.

With trembling hands and blackened teeth, mercury-poisoned hatters stumbled through the streets of 18th-century Europe and North America. Many had slurred speech and other behaviors that could easily be mistaken for drunkenness. Doctors reported quarter-sized holes in the brains of the most severely afflicted of these unfortunates.
(an obvious aside - such a hole would hide several cigarettes?)

In present day:
CARROTING The brushing of furs with solution of hydrogen peroxide and nitric acid. This treatment opens sheaths surrounding each fur fiber and permits matting (felting) of fibers in subsequent operations.
 

Brad Bowers

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,187
It's interesting that the union didn't push for an end to the use of mercury until 1938, when they began their local and national campaign to end its use. Several investigations showed that one in five workers had the "hatter's shakes," or mercury poisoning, which led 26 state governments to ban its use in hatmaking by 1941.

You'd think they would have tried to end it in the 19th century.

Brad
 

Mulceber

Practically Family
Messages
730
Location
Ann Arbor, Michigan
I don't get why that means they had to eliminate Mercury - they could have improved safety conditions so that the felters weren't coming into direct contact with it, couldn't they? I mean, within 5-10 years they were able to prevent contact with radiation, so why couldn't that be done with Mercury if it had such a good effect on the quality of the felt? -M
 

M_Jones

One of the Regulars
Messages
255
Location
Fortress of Solitude
Art Fawcett said:
I've worn pre war hats for years & I'm not crazy..and neither am I..

:eek: Um..guys..who wants to be the one to tell him?... :rolleyes: lol

I thought that mercury was used to lock the fibers together much tighter than they would have been otherwise and also had the double advantage of producing a very nice finish??

In any case I agree with Mulceber, couldn't this process be introduced again with better safety regulations? Or is it just that nobody really cares anymore?
 

barrowjh

One Too Many
Messages
1,398
Location
Maryville Tennessee
Mercury not critical to the process

I read one article about how the industry started using mercury. It started out with urine, and then they noticed that the felt was better when they used the urine of a hatter that was being treated for veneral disease, and that initiated the switch to the mercury. My understanding is that other chemicals are used today that do the job just as well. Greg Fiske at Winchester advised us that the felt just gets better with age, so it isn't that the mercury process was superior that makes the older hats such a pleasure to work with, but age of the felt (and also successive cleanings with naptha, which leaches out the stiffener). I remember Fiske saying that he provides feedback to the factory in Portugal (where the current-day carroting is taking place) about how the fur is doing in the felting process, and they fine-tune the amount of chemical applied. aside - even though the Beaver may be harvested in the Americas, the fur is separated, graded, etc in Portugal, and imported in bales to the felting factories.
 

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