Arsenic was not uncommon at the turn of the century. It was a common means of pest control – often as rat poison. In humans, arsenic poisoning produces symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal pain, and death.
In a 1927 Scientific Monthly article, Professor Norman Harrar described arsenic this way: “One of the poisons known to the ancients, one of the weapons of many famous and of many more obscure criminals, one of the allies of man in his war on marauding insects, one of the most deadly of toxic substances – arsenic.”
And yet, many people took arsenic willingly and habitually. Arsenic-eaters consumed the deadly poison for many reasons, most often for its ability to clear the complexion as well as creating and maintaining a youthful countenance.
The habit was first noticed on a wide scale in Styria, a state in southeastern Austria. They called it hydrach. DC’s Evening Star said, “The habit is generally began at the age of fifteen and continued up to the ages of seventy and seventy-five.”