Hidden Killers of the Edwardian Home

2014, History  -  60 min Leave a Comment
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This installation of the BBC's Hidden Killers series catalogs the innovations and discoveries of the Edwardian period (1901-1914) and the resultant dangers that were inadvertently introduced into the homes of that time. Host Suzannah Lipscomb meets with several historical experts to learn more about this experimental phase of history and its impact on modernity.

Described as "an age of firsts," the Edwardian period saw many significant technological advances including the first mass-produced car, the first successful airplane flight, and widespread use of electricity. Unfortunately, Edwardian society had much to learn about the risks of overloading a socket and the poisonous nature of many gases and powders in use at the time. Citing a lack of understanding as the primary factor in many otherwise avoidable injuries and deaths, Lipscomb educates viewers on the past household roles of toxins including asbestos, ammonia, and ether to name a few.

Also noted as an age of "female advance," more women were joining the workforce and therefore utilizing electrical appliances to ease the burden of housework. Items such as early refrigerators, however, suffered a serious design flaw that allowed lethal and flammable gases to leak into the air and the lungs of the average family. Not only did appliances pose certain risks, both male and female laborers exposed their families to poisons by wearing them home on their clothes. Asbestos was being used industrially for the first time, and dust from the factories would stick to uniforms and infect those doing the household laundry.

Aesthetic trends also posed a threat to the public. Make-up found popularity after the "au naturel" trend of the Victorian era, but many cosmetic products contained ingredients with undesirable side effects such as hair loss and corneal damage. Female baldness was common due to either burning it off with curling tools, or killing it with hazardous chemicals meant to dye it. Radium was a popular novelty due to its glow. Items such as irradiated socks, underwear, chocolate, toothpaste and even water were available for public consumption.

Hidden Killers of the Edwardian Home reveals the beginnings of many products still in use to this day, leaving viewers to question what modern technologies and trends we may presently be misusing to our potential detriment.

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