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Mad As A Hatter Phrase Origins

The history and why we use the term Mad As A Hatter


When top hats and felt hats were first introduced to the fashion world centuries ago mercurous nitrate was used in the production. Unfortunately the mercury was poisonous and made the hatters mad.


How Top Hats Were Made


The hats were made from beaver or rabbit fur and the furs would be brushed with the mercury solution to roughen their fibres so that they could be shaved off to form the felt. The hatters would then dip the hat into boiling acid solutions before steaming and ironing the finished hat.


Mad Hatter Syndrome


Conditions in the factories were poor and due to the poor ventilation the hatters would breathe in the fumes from the mercury and the acid. This caused health problems such as brain and kidney damage. This would manifest itself in symptoms such as deterioration in vision, hallucinations, loss of co-ordination, trembling and muscular tremors and twitches which was known as hatters shakes, poor gum conditions and lose of teeth, mood swings, anxiety, loss of memory, depression and changes in personality. Modern medicine would know this to be mercury poisoning, but at the time it was called mad hatter syndrome.


Mad Hatter Alice In Wonderland

The phrase was in common usage and was used by several writers including Lewis Carroll who used the phrase in 1865 in his children’s book Alice in Wonderland and had the character called the Mad Hatter. Other authors to use the phrase included Thomas Chandler Haliburton during the 1830s for his character Samuel (Sam) Slick and William Makepeace Thackeray in Pendennis which was serialised between 1848-50.


More word and phrase origins.


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