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Q: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons... ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   5 Comments )
Subject: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons...
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: cynthia-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 10 Apr 2003 20:23 PDT
Expires: 10 May 2003 20:23 PDT
Question ID: 189105
Hi all!

I have a family story that I'd like researched, and after attempting
to find the source/origin of "w00t!" for a Google Answers client, I'm
burnt out!

What I'd like to find out is the date that the 'skull and crossbones
poison symbol' began to appear on container of poisonous substances,
AND what year antidotes first appeared on bottles. I think it's 1957,
the year of my birth, for both.

Not the source of the skull and crossbones, but the year it appeared
as a poison symbol on poisonous bottles. I think the reason it was
chosen is obvious, so I won't ask for that.

The reason for my request might be helpful so hear it is:

I had a full-blood brother before I was born. My brother died of an
accidental poisoning from a "weed killer" named Triox (Tri-ox?). The
spelling may be wrong.

After my brothers death in August 1956 (I was in the womb, born in Jan
1957), the manufacturer (unknown) of Triox called my parents and
offered them money. They said no, nothing could ever replace or make
up for my brothers death. They asked what, if anything, they could do.
My parents said they wanted warnings on bottles that contained
poisons, and furthermore --if there was antidotes, they wanted them
listed on the bottles too. As the story goes, there WAS an antidote
but there was no way before my brothers death to get the information

My family maintains that my brothers death was instrumental in
changing all that. Evidently the maker of Triox was very emphathetic
and remorseful that the product killed a 2 year old boy, when the
antidote for the poison is in nearly every home in America, and he
spearheaded an effort to add antidotes to the bottles and make the
skull and crossbones poison symbol appear on the bottles.

I don't know how much is exagerattion, but my Dad is dead and my Mom
swears to this day she and Dad are responsible for this event.

I'm curious, plus, I've never asked a question before, so this is a
good time to start!

A $10.00 tip for a definitive answer and source will be awarded.


Clarification of Question by cynthia-ga on 11 Apr 2003 00:44 PDT
Geez, sorry about the misspellings and typos. You'd think that because
I'm also a Google Answers Researcher I'd know better, but instead I've
learned that the desire to know overcomes common sense at times!

Clarification of Question by cynthia-ga on 11 Apr 2003 11:04 PDT
I've also noticed this question has been locked by different
researchers all night, I thank you all for your efforts. I realize
this is a difficult question.

Subject: Re: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons...
Answered By: feilong-ga on 11 Apr 2003 12:42 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi Cynthia,

As always, it is a pleasure to help a fellow researcher here at GA.
Your question definitely caught my attention because I too wanted to
know the history of these things. Below are the results of my


"Perhaps the most recognized symbol of death, the pirate flag's skull
and crossbones, was often used on poison labels starting in the
mid-1800s. Then toward the end of the century, the skull and
crossbones was embossed on bottles."

(Excerpted from A Killer Collection... Poison Bottles - By Mike
McLeod, McElreath Printing & Publishing, Inc., Copyright  2001)

"Since the 1850s, the skull & cross bones has been the accepted symbol
warning users of a poisonous substance.  Poison bottle collectors love
the bottles with the skull and crossbones embossed. In the 1700s the
"Skull & Crossbones" flag was first flown by French pirate Emanuel

"...Sometimes apothecaries would display skeletons when they were
compounding poisonous materials. As early as 1829, New York state
required the clear labeling of containers whose contents was

(Excerpted from, Digger Odell Publications, Copyright

Additional reading material:

The Standard-Times -
Poison bottles steeped in history

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
History of the Development of the Chronic Hazard Symbol
Document format
HTML Format

"My family maintains that my brothers death was instrumental in
changing all that."

Based on the given references above, I believe your family's claim
only applied to the changes made for the Triox containers.


"I have heard that poisons were used as a mode of capital punishment

"Yes, you are right. Poisons were used by the ancient Greeks as a
means of capital punishment, the best remembered case being that of
Socrates who was given hemlock. It was also used as a means of
political assassination, though this use was developed on a much
greater scale by the Romans subsequently. Thus started the search for
antidotes for poisons. In fact it became a practical necessity if the
king wished to survive in office."

"Doctor, you introduced a new term antidote. What is it?"

"Tarun, antidotes are the remedies administered against poisons. The
term literally means "give against". It is derived from the Greek
words anti or against and didonai, to give. The most famous example of
an antidote was that devised by King Mithridates VI. He was king of
Pontus in Asia Minor, living from 114-63 BC. The Roman scholar Pliny
(AD 23-79) wrote a good deal about him. Mithridates experimented with
poisons, trying them out on condemned criminals, and he also tried out
various antidotes to the various poisons on these prisoners, either
before they were poisoned or immediately after they were poisoned to
see whether in fact the antidotes were effective. In this way he
discovered various antidotes or what he considered to be antidotes
against different poisons and he then compounded them all together in
order to produce a universal antidote which could neutralize any
poison. Adopting an overcautious approach, he then began taking this
supposed universal antidote daily, so that nobody could secretly kill
him with poison. It is often stated that the original recipe had more
than 36 ingredients; Greek physician Galen (AD 130-200) said there
were 54!"

"Great! Did this recipe help him finally?"

"This has an interesting ending. Eventually Mithridates was defeated
by the Roman general and statesman Pompey (106-48 BC) and holed up in
his fortress; he massacred his wives, concubines and daughters and he
then took poison to commit suicide, but, alas, protected as he was by
his daily dose of his magnificent antidote, the poison failed to act!
The antidote by this time was known as Mithridatium. Perhaps he failed
to die from poison because of this antidote. He had to get his Celtic
soldier servant to stab him to death with his sword! After his defeat
and death, Pompey discovered Mithridates' notebooks on antidotes for
poisons, and so Mithridatium became known in Rome."

"And the science of poisons and antidotes moved on to Rome?"

"Well, the Roman emperor Nero (AD 37-68) showed a great interest in
poisons. Andromachus, one of Nero's personal physicians, improved the
formula of Mithridatium and it then became known as Theriac of
Andromachus, containing 64 ingredients-and this included the flesh of
vipers! For some strange reason, people have always thought that the
flesh of vipers is a good antidote to poison. Perhaps this thought
arose because the snakes are poisonous yet they do not die of their
poison, so it is rather reasonable to think that the snakes' flesh
acted as an antidote. Viper's flesh was a very common ingredient of
any antidote that was developed in ancient times. In the course of
time Theriac became not only an antidote against poison but also a
panacea against all diseases and it was in medical use until the 18th
century. To prevent fraud, in many cities, including Venice,
Montpellier, Toulouse and Strasburg, Theriac was carefully compounded
and prepared in public under official supervision! Even today Theriac
jars can be seen in museums."

(Exerpted from Poisons, Antidotes and Anecdotes, Anil Aggrawal's
Forensic Toxicology Page, Copyright  2003)

Professor Anil Aggrawal home page

"...I think it's 1957, the year of my birth, for both."

Take note of the last part regarding Theriac jars. As far as antidote
in a container is concerened, based on the reference we can assume
that this was first used probably in AD 50-60. However, since
antidotes have existed even before that and bottles, jars, and other
man-made containers have existed throughout the ages, it is very safe
to say that bottled antidotes existed far before 1957. :-)

Additional reference:

The Pharmaceutical Journal
All you need to know about antidotes in a clear and useful format

Search strategy:

"skull and crossbones" poison history - in Google Web search

antidotes history - in Google Web search

I hope this helps you. Please feel free to post your clarification
before rating this and I'll attend to you as soon as possible. Thanks
for asking.

Best regards,

Request for Answer Clarification by cynthia-ga on 11 Apr 2003 13:54 PDT
hi feilong!

Although I tried, I didn't state my question and all the information I
had. Your answer reminded me of a couple things. Great answer and well
researched, however what I want though is slightly more localized.

As the story goes, before my brothers death there were no antidotes,
poison control phone numbers, etc. listed on the containers on ALL
poisonous containers in the United States. I think there was some
resulting legislation after my brothers death, that mandated this into
US law, although the drive to do it was initially voluntary, it did
eventually become law.

A bigger tip is offered if you can track that down.

Clarification of Answer by feilong-ga on 11 Apr 2003 14:11 PDT
Hi Cynthia and thanks for the clarification.

I need to know where you were located during that time? I think I
found some references regarding your clarification and that info will
help narrow my search.

For the meantime, I need to rest as soon as possible and I will resume
my search a bit later. I know you understand my situation. ;-)

Request for Answer Clarification by cynthia-ga on 11 Apr 2003 15:05 PDT
Seattle, Washington, USA --98155

FYI: I leave the computer at 4:30pm Pacific and won't return till Sat around 10am.

Clarification of Answer by feilong-ga on 13 Apr 2003 16:03 PDT
Hi Cynthia,

Here are the results of my thorough sleuthing regarding your inquiry:

"Beginning in the 1870s here in the United States uniquely designed
containers in bright cobalt blue began appearing. In order to warn the
user of the dangerous nature of the contents, the outside of the
bottle was covered with a series of raised bumps, dots, ridges, or
lattice work. The purpose of these features was that should an
unsuspecting victim mistakenly grab a bottle in a dark or dimly lit
room he could tell by feel that the contents should not be ingested.
Various unusual shapes (triangular or hexagonal) were widely adopted
to store poisons, but the skull and crossbones had a long history and
appealed to a primitive part of our conscience.

It was not until the late 1880-1890s that the skull and crossbones
became a familiar site embossed on bottles.  The practice continued
through the 1920s when it was decided that the brightly colored
bottles and symbols maybe attractive to children and harming more than
helping the situation.  Eventually the emphasis changed to creating
containers which would be difficult for children to open."

(Excerpted from, Digger Odell Publications, Copyright

From the above information, you can clearly surmise that concerened
people, on their own, have been doing some effort to label containers
as a warning of their content. My research continued until I was able
to track down the law concerning product packaging:

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
(Public Law 91-601, 84          Stat. 1670, December 30, 1970, as
"Enacted in 1970, the PPPA, requires a number of household substances
to be packaged in child-resistant packaging. The packaging required by
the PPPA must be designed or constructed to be significantly difficult
for children under five years of age to open within a reasonable time,
and not difficult for normal adults to use properly. For the sake of
the elderly and handicapped who might have difficulty opening such
containers, the Act provides that a regulated product available for
purchase on store shelves may be packaged in one non-complying size
provided it carries a warning that it is not recommended for use in
households with children, and provided that the product is also
supplied in complying popular size packages. Regulated prescription
drugs may be dispensed in non-child-resistant packaging upon the
specific request of the prescribing doctor or the patient. The
Environmental Protection Agency regulates economic poisons, such as
pesticides. Since the regulation has been in effect, there have been
remarkable declines in reported deaths from ingestions by children of
toxic household products including medications."

I searched thoroughly and I wasn't able to find a specific mandate
related to the 1956 incident. The closest information I waas able to
find is this:


"Before the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA) was enacted in
1970, poisonings by common household substances, including medicines,
had long been considered by pediatricians to be the leading cause of
injuries among children under 5 years of age. At one point, state
death certificates reported about 500 fatalities a year in children
under 5 due to poisoning caused by unintentional ingestion of drugs
and household products."

"As a result of the many injuries, individual poison control centers
were established toprovide specialized diagnoses and treatment for
poisonings within their communities. As these centers proliferated,
the need for a coordinating body became apparent so that duplicative
workcould be avoided. In 1957, the National Clearinghouse for Poison
Control Centers was established with the mandate to collect data from
the centers and provide them with diagnostic and therapeutic
information on the myriad of household products involved inchildhood
poisonings.2 The Clearinghouse became the largest repository of
poisoning case reports in the world...."

View as PDF
(You can also download the file by right-clicking on the link and
choosing "Save Target As...")
View as HTML

As I mentioned earlier, prior to 1957, there are proofs that laws were
made regarding this matter. If you continue reading the material
above, you will see that:

"Another activity geared to the prevention and control of childhood
poisonings was the passage of Public Law 87-319 which requested the
President to designate the third week in March each year as National
Poison Prevention Week (NPPW), “… to aid in encouraging the American
people to learn of the dangers of unintentional poisoning and to take
such preventive measures as are warranted by the seriousness of the
danger.”5 It was a pharmacist who was the driving force behind the
Resolution. In 1950, Homer George, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri,
convinced his mayor to proclaim a Poison Prevention Week in his
community. Mr. George then followed this up with the Governor of
Missouri and subsequently then prevailed on his congressman to
introduce national legislation.6"

"The earliest attempts at controlling the problem of poisonings of
young children surfaced after World War II, when there was a
proliferation of household chemicals. Working with the American
Medical Association (AMA)and industry, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) drafted what in 1960 became the Hazardous
Substances Labeling Act...."

(Excerpts taken from the same source: )

I tracked down that 1960 Act and here's a brief description of that

"Authorized FDA to regulate substances that are hazardous (either
toxic, corrosive, irritant, strong sensitizers, flammable, or
pressure-generating). Such substances may cause substantial personal
injury or illness during or as a result of customary use."

(Source: United States Department of Health and Human Services -
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

I followed this information and tried to find its history. My last
search turned up a positive result that prior to 1957, U.S. government
law regarding the control of packaging and labeling of products,
particularly food and drugs was already in effect.  Download the file
through the link below and you can see that:

• Replaced 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act
• Established requirements for identity, quality and strength of drugs
• Extended coverage to include cosmetics and therapeutic devices
• Authorized inspections
• Added legal remedies of court injunction (to previous, much slower
seizure and prosecution remedies)

(Excerpted from Page 9 of US Regulatory Affairs History by Joyce
Williams, RAC Study Group, San Diego Regulatory Affairs Network,

View as PowerPoint
(You can also download the file by right-clicking on the link and
choosing "Save Target As...")
View as HTML

Now, given all the factual information above, both public and
government efforts on the regulation and implementation of methods
regarding toxic or dangerous substances have been in effect prior to
1957. As I said before, your family's claim perhaps only applied to
the changes made for the Triox containers.

Going back to the earlier info I gave you, it is also possible that
your family's perception about the matter is due to the fact that it
coincided with the 1957 mandate that established the National
Clearinghouse for Poison Control Centers as a result of poisonings way
back from 1956 . I now strongly believe that this may be the case.

I hope this clarification explained it well for you. :-)

Search strategy:

federal "poison law"

"Poison Prevention Packaging Act"

"Poison Prevention Packaging" mandate

"Hazardous Substances Labeling" history


Request for Answer Clarification by cynthia-ga on 15 Apr 2003 16:13 PDT

I have had absolutely no time to read your update (Payroll day)... I
have not forgotten about you.


Clarification of Answer by feilong-ga on 15 Apr 2003 17:43 PDT
No problem, I understand. ;-)
cynthia-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $15.00
An excellent answer, well researched and formatted. THANK YOU!!!

Subject: Re: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons...
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Apr 2003 14:32 PDT
The skull-and-crossbones was definitely featured on labels of
pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic household chemicals long
before 1957. I remember asking my mother about the "pirate man" on the
label of a bottle of roach-killer when I was in nursery school
(probably around 1951).

Here's a photo of an insecticide from the 1930s, for instance:

I haven't been able to find the exact date when federal law began to
mandate the inclusion of antidotes on labels of insecticides and
herbicides. Instead of the word "antidote," apparently the euphemism
"statement of practical treatment" is used:
Subject: Re: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons...
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Apr 2003 15:03 PDT
According to this timeline, 1964 was the year when federal legislation
began to require safety information on the labels of pesticides:

"1964 - FIFRA Amendment (P.L. 88-305) - Ended 'Registration under
Protest' by manufacturers; required safety information on the
pesticide label"

US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine
Subject: Re: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons...
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Apr 2003 15:26 PDT
Here's another indication that 1964 may have been the year when the
feds began mandating warnings on the labels of pesticides:

"1964 amendment: 
Pesticide registration became mandatory (all pesticide products
required to carry a USDA registration number)
Signal words/child warning statement added 
Safety claims removed 
USDA given authority to suspend or deny a registration"
Subject: Re: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons...
From: cynthia-ga on 11 Apr 2003 16:33 PDT

...You're on the right track... As I said, it was voluntary in the
beginning. And thank gosh I didn't have to find this one. *phew* 
Thanks for your help.  Even 1964 is more than I had last night. My
family will be pleased.

Also, I've been wanting to contact you about an MP3 I have. It's
easily found on the Internet too.  ;-)  It's a remix of "Whole Lotta
Love" originally by Led Zeppelin, the mix is Led Zep WITH Pink Floyd.
It's incredible. Have you heard it?

Subject: Re: Date that Antidotes and Skull & Crossbones appeared on poisons...
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Apr 2003 16:50 PDT

I have not heard the Led Zep/Pink Floyd MP3, but I will certainly look
for it! Thanks!

If I find anything more definitive regarding the labeling laws, I'll
post it here. I, too, have suffered a personal tragedy (in my case
related to DDT in the 1950s), so this matter is of great interest to


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