While The Knick is a work of fiction, it is based on exhaustive historical research. Below, the show’s writers share some of the true facts of the era that are depicted in this episode.
Embalming fluid is typically comprised of formaldehyde, ethanol, and methanol. Methanol is particularly dangerous for consumption, as it is a variety of alcohol that can blind you. (Image courtesy of the Burns Archive.
The rat poison Eleanor uses to kill Dr. Cotton likely contained arsenic—a toxin with particularly acute symptoms.
There were two types of condoms available in the early 20th century: one made from animal intestines and the other from molded natural latex. Harriet and Cleary manufacture the former, but both were illegal. The punishment for using a contraceptive involved heavy fines and, sometimes, incarceration with hard labor. The law banning contraception wasn’t overturned until 1918.
Blackened fingertips and the ends of noses are common Plague symptoms. Ships would inadvertently carry rats infected with Plague from port to port, in turn infecting passengers and spreading the disease.(Image courtesy of the Burns Archive.)
Central Vacuum systems first appeared at the end of the 19th century. They involved inlets in each room that could be fitted with tubes and sweeping devices. These inlets then connected to a vacuum machine in the basement.
Invented by Thomas Edison in the 1880s, the Kinetoscope allowed viewers to watch a proto-movie: a strip of film passing over light. Harriet and Cleary watch “The Big Swallow, a 1901 British comedy directed by James Williamson.