A few hundred years ago - sometimes even less - some marvels of science and technology were mistakenly thought to be completely harmless. The long-term side effects of many substances were not yet known, and there were those who lost their pens for ingesting radium and those who still live today in an asbestos house.
As for arsenic, the question is not that different. At the end of the nineteenth century, more or less everyone knew that arsenic was toxic if ingested, but hardly anyone was aware that it could kill even in the form of wallpaper. In short, how often are we made out of a piece of furniture?
Arsenic walls for beautiful furnishings to die for
In America, at the end of the 19th century, over half of American homes were lined with poisonous wallpaper. The toxic substance was released into the air, ending up on clothing, hands and often in the food of the poor unsuspecting inhabitants. So, in 1874 a man named Robert M. Kedzie decided to take matters into his own hands. The man had been a surgeon during the civil war and became a professor of chemistry after leaving the army.
Upon learning of the dangers that lurked behind the cladding for the walls of the pretty houses crammed with families and children, he decided to write a book. Thus the volume "Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers" ("Shadows from the walls of death: facts and inferences preceding a sample of arsenic wallpapers" ). The book was not an essay, but rather a collection of beautifully colored wallpapers, as beautiful as they were deadly. Of a couple of samples you can see the beautiful bright and poisonous green of the photos above.
An arsenic book to warn against a potentially lethal wallpaper
Each page was drenched in poison capable of making an adult person ill. Dr. Kedzie made 100 copies and mailed them to Michigan public libraries. Along with the book there was also the warning not to let anyone touch the pages of this deadly compendium. What initially turned out to be simple theories of a chemist, were soon validated by the scientific community. Libraries at that point feared for the safety of the public and employees, so numerous copies of the book in question were destroyed.
To date, it seems that only four volumes of the arsenic book are still in circulation. To be able to admire the poisonous wallpapers, it was essential - until a few years ago - to wear special gloves. In 1998, the copy owned by Michigan State University was coated with plastic, page after page. One of the copies, licensed to the National Library of Medicine, was scanned and made available online. Certainly a couple of safer ways to admire the pages of the most poisonous book of all time.