The Rather Heart-shattering Origin of the “Mad Hatter”

The Mad Hatter is quite an interesting character.  He is as unfathomable as his riddles.  In Lewis Carroll’s infamous children’s tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he asks Alice millions of weird questions during an outdoor tea party that he eventually drives the little girl away. Anyone would have probably done the same thing when faced with such craziness. He’s definitely sick in the head.

But, did you know that the Mad Hatter’s name doesn’t have anything to do with his being “mad”?

His moniker was actually coined after real hat makers from the 1800s, who unfortunately had to put up with the worst working conditions in this face of the planet.

Were they asked to work without breaks?  Were they forced to do backbreaking tasks without pay?  The real truth was so much worse you might not be able to take it.

These hat makers were handling mercuric nitrate using their bare hands for countless of hours on a daily basis. No gloves, no mask, and not even a single protective gear. To think that such substance is extremely detrimental to one’s health… unthinkable!

This chemical was used to make animal skin become more malleable and durable so when it’s time for the resulting pieces of felt to be stitched up, they’d work just fine. Due to this kind of system, however, tons of factory workers got ill. There was massive health crisis in Danbury, the largest manufacturer of hats in America back in the day.

Those who were smacked hard by mercury showed dreadful symptoms. Most of them would feel irritable and would even drool. Some were diagnosed with pathological shyness and experienced tremors, too.

But, the widespread mercury poisoning didn’t seem to affect these heartless hat factory owners especially in Danbury. They went on with their madness, only increasing the number of poisoned workers that the whole hullabaloo was already dubbed “Danbury Shakes”. How’s that?

Poor hatters only found the strength to fight for their rights during the latter parts of 1800. They demanded for a safer working environment and their appeal was tackled by the Supreme Court twice. The case lost twice, too.

The working conditions only improved until before World War II. What an exhaustingly long time!  It took, more or less, a century before these hardworking hatters were respected and taken care of the way they’re supposed to be. Today, there were none of those hat factories left. But, the ghost of the past will always haunt us all.

It turns out Mr. Mad Hatter’s name isn’t just about his being mad. His moniker has a much deeper, much heavily significant historical core. He stands for all those past hatters, who were intoxicated by mercury. People enslaved by factory owners, who only care for profit and without a single compassion for their dedicated employees.

May the Mad Hatter be a constant reminder that once there lived some folks who made hats, and who got mad in return.