Today’s Colour Story is about Scheele’s Green.

Invented in 1775 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, this arsenic-laced pigment was in high demand for paints, wallpaper prints, fabric dyes, toys, and even as food colouring for sweets. Its poisonous effects were not readily known during its wild popularity. However, journals from that era report the deaths of children and babies after playing on green carpet or rubbing on their nursery walls.

Manufacturing workers and newspaper printers also passed out from the arsenic vapours.

And has anyone ever complimented you with the expression, “That’s a killer outfit?” There once was a Victorian slang that described a “killing creature” which referred to an attractive person who had enough poison in her green dress to slay an entire ballroom of people. Although they appeared lavish in their emerald clothing, the wearers often suffered unpleasant side effects such as ulcers, scabs, and sores all over the skin. Women also fainted while wearing big green gowns.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s death is rumoured to have been partly caused by his stay in a bright green room – his favourite colour. Officially, stomach cancer was the cause of his death, but analyses of his hair revealed significant amounts of arsenic. You’d think that once these stories of accidental poisoning became common tales, that consumers would stop wearing and using the poisonous colour.

That was not the case. This popular green was lucrative business and it wasn’t until 1895 when safety regulations were placed around the production of these arsenic green shades that consumers began to demand manufacturers to produce arsenic-free pigments. However, the colour soon fell out of fashion shortly after.