Hardware Diet

March 1934: Forty-year-old Mabel Wolf of Brooklyn showed up at Kings County Hospital complaining of acute stomach pain and a loss of appetite. An x-ray revealed the presence of a large clump of metallic objects in her stomach. In a subsequent hour-long operation, surgeons removed 1,203 pieces of hardware from her stomach. The objects weighed a total of one pound, three ounces. Amazingly, they hadn't done her any serious harm.

Lebanon Evening Report - Mar 21, 1934

The inventory of items removed included:

  • 584 fine upholstery tacks
  • 144 carpet tacks
  • 2 chair tacks
  • 1 roundheaded thumbtack
  • 3 thumbtacks (ordinary)
  • 46 small screws
  • 6 medium screws
  • 80 large screws
  • 1 hook-shaped screw (coat hanger)
  • 30 small bolts
  • 47 larger bolts
  • 3 picture hooks
  • 3 nuts
  • 2 large bent safety pins
  • 1 small safety pin
  • 2 stray pins without heads
  • 1 matted mass of hair containing screws and pins
  • 59 assorted beads
  • 4 pieces of wire
  • 89 pieces of glass (all sizes)
  • 1 piece of teacup handle

Miss Wolf claimed that she had eaten all the objects five years earlier, in a single week, while she had been working at a Manhattan hardware store. (You have to wonder if the store had noticed the loss of inventory.)

When pressed further, Miss Wolf said, "I really don't know what started me on my diet. I guess I was just trying to be funny. Don't ask me any more about it. I only want to get well and go home."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - Mar 20, 1934

Miss wolf had suffered minor stomach pains for five years as a result of the objects, but she had been able to self-treat the discomfort with patent medicine. She finally went to a doctor when the pain became too intense.

One mystery that the doctors weren't fully able to explain was why the metal objects all clumped together in her stomach. Dr. Edwin H. Fiske speculated that "metallic objects in the stomach take on a kind of magnetism, which attracs the individual objects to one another, so that they cling together in one large ball, as if welded together. Thus the danger of the cuts from pointed nails and pins is lessened."

Evidently Miss Wolf suffered from the eating disorder known as pica, which is a compulsion to eat non-nutritive items such as paper, metal, chalk, mud, etc. I suspect that her strange diet hadn't been confined to a single week. She'd probably been doing it for quite a while.

We've previously posted about a few other people who suffered from this disorder, including the boy who ate the Bible and the Human Ostrich.

If you're interested in the subject of pica and people swallowing weird things, you can find a whole bunch of cases discussed (including Mabel Wolf) in Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them by Mary Cappello.

     Posted By: Alex - Fri Dec 30, 2016
     Category: Food | 1930s | Mental Health and Insanity

Not exactly the same, but for those in the Philly area, the Mütter Museum as a case full of items that people had stuck in their throats. You can go through the drawers and look at them all:


Posted by S. Norman on 12/30/16 at 11:51 AM
Looking over the list, I'd suspect that mat of hair was a factor in keeping all that stuff from moving into her bowels.

I wonder what happened to all the "real" food that she ate over that time period?
Posted by KDP on 12/30/16 at 01:42 PM
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