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Claire F. Santos Daigle, aka, The Mad Hatter, San Diego Costume Guild meeting August, 14 2007

Mad Hatter History

The Mad Hatter is generally believed to be based on Theophilus Carter.  He invented an alarm clock bed, exhibited at the Great Exhibition, also known as Crystal Palace, in Hyde Park, London, England of 1851, that tipped out the sleeper at waking-up time. He later owned a furniture shop, and became known as the Mad Hatter from his habit of standing in the door of his shop wearing a top hat. 

Sir John Tenniel an English illustrator was best known for his work in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. There is also the possibility that the root of the term "mad hatter" is drawn from a time when mercury was used in the process of curing felt used in some hats. It was impossible for hatters to avoid inhaling the mercury fumes given off during the hat making process. Over time, the residual mercury caused neurological damage, as well as confused speech and distorted vision. As the mercury poisoning progressed to dangerously high levels, sufferers could also experience a disconnect from realty symptoms, such as hallucinations. Given that anyone exhibiting an altered mental state was dubbed mad at the time, the cause of such malady, and subsequent death of such people doubtless went unexplained for a long time.


Hat Industry History

Danbury Connecticut was the center of the hat industry made of felt. From the 1800's to 1950, during 1808 & 1809, there were 56 hat shops in Danbury known as "hat city" of the world. In 1849 a machine was introduced, which could form fur felt hat bodies, nearly eliminating all the small shops which gave way to larger factories that were concentrated along the banks of the Still River from West Street to East Liberty Street and eventually helped increase production levels to over 5,000,000. By 1870 the beaver felt was developed using a process washing animal furs with a mercury compound, mercury nitrate.  Milliners that inhaled the vapors came down with Mercury poisoning which attacks the nervous system, giving the appearance of drunkenness or in severe cases, symptoms of madness. In 1934 mercury was studied and by 1943 was never used again.

  The Still River  played a huge part in the success of hat manufacturing because the hat making process needed to use a lot of water and also have a place to dump it's waste.

Everyone wore hats indicative of their gender, occupation, social status, season, interests, and personality. 

Sources: Danbury Historical Society

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