Here are the first three:
Rather than 50 Shades of Gray, the Victorians were passionate about the color green. In fact, green wallpaper was to the home what an iPad Air is to tablets. This love of green came about because of the end of the window tax and gas lamps. With natural light flooding in during the day and better light at night, the Victorians unleashed their inner passion for bright colors. The fashionable color to dress the walls with wasn’t just any green. It had to be a lush shade called Scheele’s Green. Not only was it bright, but it resisted fading—an extra boon. The dark side of this colorful wall dressing was that it slowly poisoned people. Copper arsenite, an arsenic derivative, gave it the rich color. Breathing air polluted with arsenic vapor had the potential to kill . . . and often did. Whole families ailed and died, with children especially at risk. The signs of arsenic poisoning were similar to diphtheria, so many politicians remained skeptical of the danger. And those doctors who did voice concern about arsenic were often publicly ridiculed, especially by companies producing the wallpaper! It took until 1903 for arsenic compounds to be forbidden as a food additive, but the use of arsenic in wallpaper was never formally banned.
9 Baby Bottles
Roman mothers used hollow horns to feed their babies, and baby bottles were nothing new in Victorian times. What was new was a special glass bottle fitted with rubber tubing and a teat. The idea was the infant sucked on the rubber tube, like sucking cola through a straw. These bottles were backed by a popular marketing campaign and given names such as “The Little Cherub” or “The Princess.” Mothers loved how an infant could feed themselves; it was a source of great pride. These feeding bottles became the go-to accessory for the modern Victorian mother—but with deadly consequences.There was a basic design flaw: The rubber tubing was set into the glass and nearly impossible to clean. Inside the bottle, warm milk made it the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The advice given by Mrs. Beeton, the household guru of the day, didn’t help. Writing in 1861, she declared it wasn’t necessary to wash the bottles for two to three weeks. The result was babies drinking a soup of bacteria, often with fatal consequences. Indeed, the bottles soon gained another name: “murder bottles.” This, along with the condemnation of doctors, should have stopped their use. But it didn’t. Sadly, many mothers were taken in by advertising and continued using them regardless.
8 Carbolic Acid
The Victorians just couldn’t get the balance right. Take hygiene, for example. On the one hand, they used dirty baby bottles, and on the other, they came up with the saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Top this off with new theories about germs causing infection, and the urge to clean became obsessive. So they poisoned themselves with carbolic acid. Every household had caustic soda or carbolic acid, used as cleaners, in a cupboard somewhere. But therein lay the problem. These deadly products came in packaging that was identical to other household items, including foods.It was easy to confuse one box with another and accidentally poison the cakes. In September 1888, this is exactly what happened when carbolic acid was mistaken for baking soda. Thirteen people became sick, and five died. It was another 14 years before the Pharmacy Act made it illegal for chemicals to be stored in similar bottles to ordinary items.