Sheele’s Green: The Color of Death

In the Victorian age, people started having gas lights in their homes. This was dangerous and could be deadly for obvious reasons. But then there were any number of deadly things to be found in the Victorian homes. One real killer, oddly enough, came about because of that gas lighting.

Before gas lighting, most people wanted to paint their walls white, because houses were extremely dark, and they needed all the light surfaces they could get to reflect the candlelight. But according to this Youtube video entitled “The Deadly Fashions of the Victorians”, once gas lights lit up the home, people wanted to enjoy bright colors. Wallpaper became all the rage.

According to this article in Smithsonian Magazine, a man named Carl Sheele developed a bright green wallpaper, and people began calling the color Sheele’s green. The problem was that that color green was made with arsenic. William Morris, the most famous wallpaper manufacturer of the time, often used Sheele’s green in his designs.

Morris either didn’t believe, or denied, that arsenic in wallpaper could harm anyone. It is interesting to note that in the video mentioned above, they mention that Morris owned an arsenic mine. He only stopped using arsenic green due to public pressure.

Sadly, Sheele’s green also appeared in paint, clothing dye, candle coloring, and printers ink. This substance was especially toxic to children and the elderly. Bright green rooms were known to wipe out all the children in many families. According to Wikipedia, it may have even played a role in Napoleon’s death.

There is a book called “Shadows from the Walls of Death” that was produced by a doctor who was trying to warn people about toxic wallpaper. It contained 100 samples of said wallpaper. You can read all about it in this article in Atlas Obscura. It is said to be one of the most toxic books in history. If you touch it with your bare hands, it can kill you. Fortunately, only 4 copies of the book remain, and they are housed in extremely controlled environments.

So, Morris denied the science at the time because he had a profit motive. Sounds a lot like those people who are denying global warming and saying, “Drill, baby, drill!” Or people who are denying the danger of COVID-19 for political reasons. Evil is motivated by greed and power and, make no mistake, those motivations can kill us all.

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