For much of the 20th century, asbestos was used in a countless number of products because of its ability to act as a fire retardant. While asbestos was initially used in construction projects, its popularity spread as it began to be used in consumer products such as cigarette filters, protective clothing and even cooking supplies.
At the height of its use, asbestos was considered the best way to prevent fire damage. Capitalizing on this understanding, companies like the George E. Thomas Manufacturing Company of Memphis, Tennessee began marketing asbestos products for the chefs, including ‘Asbestos Baking Paper Sheets.’
In 1903, around the time the product was introduced, little was known about exactly how dangerous asbestos was for our health. The first recorded case of asbestosis would not occur for another two decades. Even after that, it would still be some time until asbestos and other diseases like mesothelioma would not be linked. Asbestos use would not truly fall from favor in the U.S. until the 1980s.
An advertisement for the asbestos baking sheets says that the sheets were designed to prevent professional and amateur chefs from burning breads, fish, meat and other foods while they baked in the oven. At this time, many stoves were still coal or wood fired so temperature regulation was difficult.
As is the case with most advertisements for asbestos related products, ads for the baking sheets presented them as the miracle remedy for a problem. The company claimed that by putting the sheet on top of browned food, the chef could prevent further charring while allowing the food to cook thoroughly.