A booming trade in the 18th century, hat makers exported American hats to Europe creating black on the balance sheet with many trading countries including England. Often the second or winter trade for many tradesmen during slow times, America was the perfect place for hat makers. The wide spaces full of natural resources offered plenty of water and an abundance of animal pelts.
By the late 18th - early 19th century, with the increasing demands and the influence of industrialization, hat makers produced millions of hats per year. The once small industry or secondary trade became a full vocation for many young men and women.
Hatters not only shaped the hats but prepped the materials used to create the hats. In particular, the preparation of the animal skin & fur involved a washing process which used a mercury solution which was orange in color. The furs were boiled several times, exposing the hatters to toxic fumes. Once the fur was separated from the skin, it was matted together to make felt.
The toxic fumes and mercury absorption through the skin, poisoned the hatters nervous systems. Common signs of mercury poisoning were red fingers, toes and cheeks. Behavioral effects included drooling, confusion, trembling and muscle twitching. Once the signs began to show, death from the mercury poisoning was inevitable.