Poison Rubber

Rubber footwear catalogue c. 1880

In 1887, three men who all worked at a New York rubber company were committed to a local Hospital for incoherent insanity. Dr. Frederick Peterson, who specialized in nervous conditions, thought the men may have inhaled fumes from carbon disulfide – a toxic chemical used in the rubber industry.

Rubber is an organic substance but to stabilize it so that it doesn’t get soft in summer and brittle in winter, the vulcanization process was developed in 1845. This process applies heat and sulfur but an improved process called ‘cold vulcanization’ was in common use by 1850. This process used carbon disulfide – the culprit of the rubber workers’ condition. 

By 1851 it was already known carbon disulfide fumes that develop from evaporation, were a danger to the nervous system. The toxins accumulated to create symptoms that resembled intoxication, grew to include weakness and numbness of the extremities, impotence, ‘hysteria’ in the male sex (it was thought at the time that only women suffered from hysteria), and full on insanity.

Carbon disulfide was not limited to just the rubber industry. It was also used in the manufacturing of cellophane and rayon. Many Polish slave labourers during World War II in the third reich’s rayon industry were hospitalized as mental patients before disappearing…

Carbon disulfide is still used in the production of rubber, cellophane and rayon but products made from these materials are safe to handle and use, as the carbon disulfide used during manufacturing is not present in the finished products made from these materials. For more information check out this article.

A ‘brief’ Halloween costume idea!

(Originally blogged October 26, 2010)

Two models dressed in outfits made half of cloth and half of cellophane to reveal their jockey underwear, 1935

I ran across this picture from an old newspaper, so excuse the poor quality of the image. It is a promotional shot from 1935 for jockey underwear!

Jockey originated as Coopers Inc., a hosiery firm established in 1876. They expanded to making cotton knit undergarments in 1900.

Suffering from the effects of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, the company expanded its product line in the hope of finding a new customer base and in January 1935 sold its first pair of men’s briefs at Marshall Field’s in Chicago. Briefs were cut short on the leg and had a Y-shaped fly panel. The company called the style Jockey, since it offered a degree of support, not unilke a jockstrap. 30,000 pairs were sold within the first three months of their introduction and the company soon changed their own name to the same as their best selling product – Jockey!

History lesson aside – I think the outfits are a great idea for a Halloween costume!