• FA-116611 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-116613 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-116616 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Chemical Production Engineering
1900 - 1909

Dust samples from trade and industry, c. 1900


Collated, labelled, and examined: these dust samples from many industrial trades seem harmless enough, contained as they are on their little glass plates. But in a person’s lungs, it’s a different story.

The 70 or more specimens at the Technisches Museum Wien contain dusts from metals (brass, iron, zinc), minerals (meerschaum, amber, plaster), vegetable and animal fibres (flax, hemp, silk), other animal matter (antler, tortoiseshell, ivory), and foodstuffs (chicory, flour, and rice). Occupational medicine first began to establish itself as a discipline in its own right around 1900. Physicians and inspectors had noted with concern that the dust pollution at many companies was causing pulmonary tuberculosis, which was already widespread. To illustrate the hazards, Vienna’s Industrial Hygiene Museum showcased a range of protective gear such as apparatus for dust extraction.

Grinding is a chip-generating machining method for processing surfaces with abrasives that produces particularly large amounts of dust. Small particles irritate the lungs, eyes and skin. Before the age of industrialisation, stone, wood, metal, glass and mother-of-pearl were ground with natural substances such as emery from the Greek island of Naxos. Fish skin and horsetail were also used. The latter has a high silica content, suitable for polishing domestic utensils, which is why it was also known as the common horsetail. As production expanded, the number of existing types of dust increased and caused new ones. Man-man abrasives such as silicon carbide were now also being made. Grinders and polishers were machining tools, knives and scissors, optical lenses and marble. In manufacture, cylindrical grinding machines began to displace conventional lathes.

Despite improvements in precautionary measures, pneumoconiosis remains a legally recognised occupational lung disease in Austria to this day. Airways and lungs are always at risk from asbestos fibres and blast furnace slag, small particles of aluminium, carbide metal and hardwood dust as well as cotton and flax dust.

Manufacturer: Swiss Federal Factory Inspectorate

Date of origin: c 1900

Inv.Nr. 68617/1
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