Posted by: David Cant | August 18, 2009

The History of Asbestos

4000 BC

Asbestos used for wicks in lamps and candles. The substance was known as “asbestos”, meaning inextinguishable or unquenchable.

2000-3000 BC

Embalmed bodies of Egyptian pharaohs were wrapped in asbestos clothes to offset the ravages of time.

2500 BC

Used in Finland to strengthen clay pots.


Anecdotal evidence of Charlemagne’s table cloth being made from woven asbestos.


Mediterranean’s used chrysotile from Cyprus and tremolite from upper Italy for the fabrication of cremation cloths, mats and wicks for temple lamps.


Marco Polo visited an asbestos mine in China in the latter half of the 13th Century. He concluded that asbestos was a stone and laid to rest the myth that asbestos was the hair of a woolly lizard.

Early 1700’s

Evidence that asbestos papers and boards were made as early as 1700 in Italy.


Chrysotile mined in Russia during the reign of Peter the Great.


Benjamin Franklin brought a purse made of asbestos to England. The purse is now in the Natural History Museum.


Blue asbestos (crocidolite) first discovered in Orange (South Africa) and was originally named “Woolstone”.


The first known US patent issued for asbestos insulating material used in steam engines.


Chrysotile first discovered in Quebec, Canada at the Thedford mines.

circa 1853

Asbestos helmet and jackets worn by Parisian Fire Brigade.


Packings and gaskets were produced, as mixtures of asbestos and organic fibrous materials.


Moulded lagging material made from waterglass and asbestos.


Italian asbestos industry based on tremolite asbestos dates back to 1866.

Early 1870’s

Founding of large asbestos industries in Scotland, Germany and England with the production of “asbestos boards”,


The “modern” asbestos industry commenced in Canada and USSR, when large deposits of chrysotile were extensively exploited.


The American asbestos industry is founded with the use of Italian asbestos to manufacture asbestos paper and board.


Asbestos pipe lagging materials, based on 85% magnesia, were developed.


First asbestos brake linings were made by Ferodo Limited in England. Made by impregnating woven asbestos brake bands with resin.


Viennese physician wrote than emaciation and pulmonary problems left no doubt that (asbestos) dust inhalation was the cause.


England, Lady Inspectors of factories wrote regarding the asbestos manufacturing processes “…. on account of their easily demonstrated danger to the heath of the workers, and because of ascertained cases of injury to bronchial tubes and lungs medically attributed to the employment of the sufferers”.


First patent for the manufacture of asbestos cement sheet in Germany.


Initially patented in 1896, first high pressure asbestos gaskets made by Klinger in Austria.


Commencement of mining of anthophyllite in Finland.


Asbestos brake linings manufactured in the USA.


Amosite (brown asbestos) discovered in Transvaal, South Africa. The word amosite derived from an acronym of “Asbestos Mines of South Africa” from the Amosa mine.


First asbestos pipes developed in Italy.


Asbestos brake linings manufactured in Germany


Standard corrugated sheet introduced in Australia by Hardies.


Large asbestos companies experimented on ways of weaving asbestos. Succeeded, but chrysotile and crocidolite were the only fibres to be woven commercially. Crocidolite being almost exclusively used for manufacture of asbestos mattresses for steam trains.


Asbestos industry regulations were passed in the UK to address concerns that asbestos exposure, particularly among textile factory workers led to lung damage.


In the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the Wicked Witch of the West appeared on a broom made of asbestos.


Wartime paraphernalia including fireproof suits and parachute flares contained asbestos.


Post-war construction projects relied heavily on the use of asbestos reaching an all-time high in 1973.


Health concerns began to surface in the US and UK after studies revealed that low levels of asbestos exposure could be more dangerous than previously thought


The solid fuel boosters of the Space Shuttle are insulated with asbestos. One of the few remaining current uses.

For further advice on Asbestos contact the Asbestos Surveyors


  1. There are many sources for possible asbestos exposure, from dangers at the workplace to under your own roof. There is a packet of information available at MesotheliomaHelp.Net that does a good job of explaining the causes and treatments for malignant Mesothelioma. It also includes a medical dictionary, journal and record book to help you keep track of appointments and treatments.

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