But Lewis Carroll did not invent the phrase, although he did create the character. The phrases 'mad as a hatter' and "mad as a March hare" were common at the time Lewis Carroll wrote (1865 was the first publication date of Alice). The phrase had been in common use in 1837, almost 30 years earlier. The earliest mention of a 'mad hatter' appears to refer to one Robert Crab, a 17th Century eccentric living at Chesham, England. He gave all his goods to the poor and lived on dock leaves and grass. Carroll, however, seems to have based his mad hatter not on Robert Crab, but on a certain Theophilus Carter, not a hatter but a furniture dealer, who was known locally as the Mad Hatter, partly because he always wore a top hat, and partly because he was quite an eccentric and produced some wacky inventions. Makers of felt hats would indeed often drool, tremble, talk to themselves and have bouts of severe paranoia, for reasons that only became clear later. Both in Europe and North America they were the eccentrics and madmen of the clothing trades, which gave rise to the phrase as used today.
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