Asbestos - The History

Asbestos is a Greek word meaning ‘Indestructible’. Greeks and Romans utilised it in Lamp Wicks, Funeral Dress and as napkins that could be cleaned by being thrown into a fire


Asbestos was also used circa 2000-3000 BC in Egypt to wrap embalmed pharaohs and in Finland to strengthen clay pots. In the Middle Ages, it was used as insulation in Suits of Armour.


The modern asbestos industry began in 1880 when large Chrysotile deposits in Canada and USSR were mined. It was not used extensively however, until after World War II


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. 


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


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

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".

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.

Kent, the first filtered cigarette on the market, used crocidolite asbestos in its "Micronite" filter from 1952 to 1956


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


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



“We have learned to depend in many , many ways upon these mineral fibres. Fire does not burn them, alkalis do not eat them. Water does not destroy them, Vermin do not attack them. They do not decay, rot or corrode. Surely asbestos which gives us so much protection and so much comfort in our daily lives is a magic mineral.”


Quote from Asbestos: A Magic Mineral by Lilian Holmes Strack - 1941