• FA-116589 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-122657 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Textiles and Clothing
1900 - 1909

Thumbnail guard, late 19th century


Industrialised working environments concealed a whole range of new hazards, with steam boilers exploding, acids eating through bodies, and drive belts ripping off limbs. Even smaller inconveniences could take their toll.

This simple yet shapely thumbnail guard comes complete with explanatory notes dating from the period in which it was made. It says: ‘Said item is used for folding fabric and smoothing long folds during collar and cuff manufacture. Whenever long strips are sewn, the fabric has to be folded over and, within a relatively short amount of time, this causes the seamstresses’ nails to be stripped away or the skin at the tip of the thumb to become so thin that the work itself became painful. The present thimble-like protection, which does not deprive the worker of any sensation in her thumb during work, prevents the thumbnail from becoming unduly burdened.’

Modern occupational medicine emerged in the 19th century. It led to the establishment of industrial hygiene as a separate discipline designed to protect the health of workers and take precautions aimed at preventing accidents. Among its advocates in Austria was Franz Migerka, one of the first labour inspectors. In Vienna he inspired the setting-up of a collection of objects on accident prevention. In 1890 they were incorporated as part of an ‘Industrial Hygiene Museum’, the custodian of which was an association comprised of many industrial firms. The Museum was also sponsored by workers’ compensation insurance companies. By 1910 the museum included more than 600 didactic models as well as a large number of illustrations and documents on workers’ welfare. They consisted of company-based social benefits such as factory kitchens and hospitals, residential buildings and recreation facilities as well as facilities for the workers’ children. Soon thereafter the institution’s inventory was incorporated into the recently founded Technisches Museum Wien.

Date of origin: Late 19th century

Donated by: F. Peter’s Successors, Vienna

Inv.Nr. 60454
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