Another question I’d love to ask someone from 1905: did apples taste different when coated in rat poison?

The little press release excerpted below reveals that it was common practice in that era to apply “Paris Green” – an arsenic compound so named because it was used to kill Paris sewer rats – to apples and other tree fruit because it was an effective insecticide against the Codling (or Codlin) moth. Despite also being known as an effective way to kill people, the Victorians loved its bright emerald color and used it in everything from soap to paint on toys to candy. It was most infamously used in wallpaper, where it proved to be particularly deadly if the walls became damp or moldy; one estimate in the British medical journal Lancet found that an average-sized living room with Paris Green wallpaper had enough arsenic to potentially kill a hundred people.

Paris Green had other problems – until the National Insecticide Law of 1910 finally set quality standards, farmers were urged to test their supply for impurities – yet it continued to be commonly used through the early 20th century (my grandfather had an old box of the stuff that I played with, mixing it up as paint). Many did switch to lead arsenate as the scientist below recommended, but it was discovered in 1919 that none of these arsenic compounds could be completely washed off the fruit using the technology of the day.

Despite that piddling problem, arsenics continued to be used on apples, plums, and other trees until DDT became available after WWII. Worse, all those years of spraying the trees with lead and Paris Green still contaminates orchard topsoil and ground water.

I assume in 1905 they believed that the poison either completely washed off, or was safely removed by peeling away the skin. But I wonder if this reveals a whole new angle on the tradition of schoolkids bringing teacher a nice, juicy apple.

Does Not Really Reach the Codling Moth Evil

BERKELEY, April 27 — Paris green is not the great codling moth destroyer that it has heretofore been believed to be. This is the discovery just announced by the entomologists of the University of California. Instead of Paris green, which has so long been the stand-by of the apple growers, William W. Volck, the college experimenter recommends the use of arsenate of lead as an insecticide, the great superiority of which over Paris green lies in the fact that it is neutral in its effect on vegetation.


– Santa Rosa Republican, April 27, 1905

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How interesting that the debate over bicyclists in Santa Rosa has not budged much in a century. In 1905, pedestrians accused “riders of wheels” of being inconsiderate jerks who acted as if they owned the sidewalks; today, motorists accuse bike riders of being inconsiderate jerks in traffic. Sic semper.

The 1905 newspapers almost never ran letters to the editor, so this offering would be unusual for that alone. But pro-bicyclist author “R. A. H.” wrote one of the longest commentaries ever to appear in that period, only about one-third of it transcribed here. It concludes with proposals for nine clauses to be added into the sidewalk ordinance, requiring license plates for bikes, a ban on youths under 16 from riding on sidewalks (“children are reckless”), a rule that bicycles must be “propelled solely by muscle power without machinery,” and a complete ban on sidewalk riding “in the business part of town,” which seems to undermine the author’s other argument that the streets are in such lousy shape that a “right to ride” must be granted posthaste.

Editor Republican: I believe that the better judgement of our people is in favor of granting some reasonable use of our sidewalks for riders of wheels…The most common objection to an ordinance permitting the riding on sidewalks is that of those who say it would be all right if complied with but that riders will pay no attention to the limitations of the privilege. There are two replies to this objection. In the first place that reckless and lawless class of riders daily violate the law now in force, and the public is already subjected to the evils of reckless riders. In the second place, the present law is not respected…

…Practically every progressive city in the State permits the riding on sidewalks, subject to reasonable restrictions. The right to ride them in Santa Rosa in winter time is an urgent necessity to many people. We have a city of 10,000 inhabitants, without street car service and with streets that for many weeks in each year cannot be ridden with a wheel with any reasonable convenience. Nine out of every ten miles of our sidewalks are practically vacant every day in the year. Quick and convenient transportation and communication are elementary requisites of progress. Every lot in the outlying portions of the city would be more valuable when made nearer the business center by the constant use of wheels. Property decreases in value from the center of a city simply because its utility is lessened by its remoteness.

It is not right to require a laboring man or a business man to spend twenty minutes in walking a mile to his work over vacant sidewalks while his wheel could take him there in ten minutes. If there are one thousand people in Santa Rosa that would each save ten minutes in one day by the use of the wheel on the sidewalk, that represents a daily saving of seventeen days’ labor for one man [sic]. In the course of one rainy season it becomes a matter of great importance.

The sidewalk ordinance is not asked for by those who sport up and down the highways crippling and maiming women and children, as some would have us believe. But the demand comes from the laboring man, the clerk, and the merchant, whose time is his capital…It is true that it might be a little more pleasant for the selfish pedestrian who is not willing divide anything, not to have his serenity in any way disturbed by a silent wheel, but we are all inevitably compelled to submit, occasionally, to the inconvenience of the presence of others…

(Signed) R. A. H.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 23, 1905

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Remember the old silent film gag where the steering wheel comes off in the driver’s hands? Something like that happened all the time in 1905, as cars went out of control because the steering gear failed; in an article that year in Horseless Age magazine, Dr. L.M. Allen griped, “Up to the present time I do not know of a car on the market that is reasonable in price and strong enough in all its vital parts to be reliable enough for the doctor’s use. During the three seasons I have used my car the steering gear has broken twice…when the steering gear is made so light that it cannot hold, and faulty in construction besides, it is criminal, because it places the lives of the occupants in jeopardy…”

Although the Press Democrat story doesn’t specify how many people were in the party, it’s safe to assume that they had hired a touring car with chauffeur. And since Mr. Lumsden was a wealthy man – owner of the Belvedere as well as several race horses – it was probably similar to the model shown at right. This 1906 Pope-Toledo (the automobile model year began the autumn before) was one of several luxurious 1905 touring cars that were the limousines of their day.

William H. Lumsden of This City Hurt Near Yountville

While on a trip to Napa Sunday to look over a vineyard with some friends William H. Lumsden of this city was hurled from an automobile and was quite severely injured. The accident occured just as the party was coming into Yountville and was caused by the steering gear working loose.

The machine was thrown clear over and landed in the ditch wrong side up. All escaped with slight bruises except Mr. Lumsden who had his right thumb broken, both wrists sprained and his right knee cap injured. He was picked up unconcious and taken to the Yountville Home where Dr. F. A. McMahon dressed his injuries and cared for him until the afternoon train arrived which brought him back to this city. He was taken to his home where he is resting easily, although sore and badly bruised.

The auto was hired at Napa by the party. Mr. Lumsden feels grateful that the accident was no worse than it was and it will be sometime before he takes another auto ride. Mr. Lumsden is the well known manager of the California Wine Association’ big winery and interests here.

– Press Democrat, October 17, 1905

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