Poison: It’s for Family Use!

Bottle label, poison for family use


The Poison

Bottle label, ammonia

As it turns out, poison for family use is just plain old household ammonia.   Comprised of nitrogen and hydrogen molecules, concentrated ammonia is primarily used in fertilizer, but when diluted in water it becomes a household cleaner or cleaning ingredient.

Ammonia chemical formula


The Bottle

Household ammonia bottle

Per the SHA, quart-sized amber bottles were often manufactured and used as generic utility bottles during the late 1800’s.  Ammonia bottles were usually cylinder shaped with a moderate neck, and aqua, clear, or amber in color (like mine on the right).

This bottle should be used for Kleen-Lin only

It’s hard to see in the picture, but printed on the bottom it says “this bottle should be used for Kleen-Lin only” (nothing about poisoning!).  I couldn’t find any info on “Kleen-Lin” other than some newspaper ads, but I assume it is a brand name.  The ads I found ran from 1936 to 1941.  Here is one from the Altoona Tribune (PA) in April 1937.

Kleen-Lin ad, Altoona Tribune, 1937

Added April 12:

I learned more about the maker’s marks on the bottom of the bottle from this paper. The logo in the middle (very difficult to see in the picture, looks like an O with a diamond through it) is from Owens-Illinois Glass Co.  The number to the left of the logo represents the factory where the bottle was made.  My bottle has the number 4, which is the Clarksburg, WV plant.  The plant manufactured bottles with this style logo from 1930-1944.  The number to the right of the logo is the manufacture date.  Mine has a 6, so the year was 1936.  The bottom number is the machine mold number, which is 8 on mine.

Booker Labs

Killo ad, Booker Labs, 1922Booker Laboratories label

The only other info I could find on Booker Laboratories is that in addition to poison ammonia, they also manufactured Killo bug spray.  This wonderful product, not only kills bugs, but also prevents disease, purifies the air, and most importantly – does not stain!  This ad is from the Twin City Sentinel (Winston-Salem, NC) in 1922.


The Poison’s History

Those silly women!

In the late 1800’s it was well-known that ammonia was a poison, yet it was often used for cosmetic purposes anyway.  At one stage in the poisoning process,  it produces a “waxy, ivory-like” appearance on the skin, which, according to the Leavenworth Weekly Times (KS) in 1891, led “many silly women to kill themselves with it in small continued doses.”

Silly women and ammonia, Leavenworth Weekly, 1891


Requiring Labels

In 1895, many states began requiring pharmacists to label all ammonia bottles as poison or be subject to fines.  This clipping is from the Portsmouth Daily Times (OH) in May of that year.

Must label ammonia poison, 1895


Poison for Family Use

And finally, here are some stories about ammonia poison’s “family use”…

From the Guardian in London, England, April 1912:  A woman used ammonia to murder her 8-week old son and then attempt suicide because she could “not see her way through”.

Ammonia Poisoning of infant, The Guardian, 1912


From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY) in 1933:  A woman accidentally killed her father by using ammonia to revive him from a fainting spell, but let the ammonia drip into his throat.

Fatal Ammonia Revival, Brooklyn, 1933


And from the Minneapolis Star in 1935:  A nurse – described as the “Poison Mercy Slayer” – murdered one her patients by giving the woman ammonia to drink.  The patient’s 12-year old son came home to find his mother “in agony”, while the *mercy* slayer did nothing to help them.

Poison Mercy Slayer, Minneapolis, 1935

Since this  one is hard to read, here’s a link to the article where it’s a little easier to see: