In a retrospective autopsy review of 2,025 available autopsies performed before 1910 no cases of malignant mesothelioma were detected. See "Rarity of Malignant Mesothelioma Prior to the Widespread Commercial Introduction of Asbestos: The Mount Sinai Autopsy Experience 1883-1910".
Benzene was once used to treat leukemia. See: "Benzene Treatment of Leukemia" for the discussion and a good review of what was known about the hazards of benzene by 1915.
From 1924: "Fibrosis of the Lungs Due to the Inhalation of Asbestos Dust"; from 1928: "A Case of Pneumoconiosis: Result of the Inhalation of Asbestos Dust". ; from 1929 "Asbestos Dust and the Curious Bodies Found in Pulmonary Asbestosis"; also from 1929: "Clinical Aspects of Pulmonary Asbestosis"; and from 1931: "Recent Views on Pneumonoconioses".These short but well written papers, now free online, detail a story that you've probably only seen or heard in executive summary form.
It's been years since I've seen a case of disabling asbestosis in a plaintiff. The malignancy cases are pretty much all that's left of asbestos litigation and the most difficult ones are those involving mesothelioma. Here's a 47 year old publication on asbestos and mesothelioma: "Exposure to Asbestos Dust and Diffuse Pleural Mesotheliomas". Appearing as it did, after a commentary about birth defects and thalidomide, it's easier to understand how that era precipitated the decades of deep suspicion of all things man-made that followed.
That said, did your eyes wander such that you read the suspicion of the wayward mutton bone? If so, here's an even older paper that may shed some light on the new era (or older era, whichever) that we're entering and a 57 year old paper that may point the way forward.
This just in from the British journal, Occupational Medicine (2010 60(1):53): “The Strange Case of Irving Selikoff.” The author traces Selikoff’s 1941-45 educational odyssey from the U.S., to Scotland, to Australia, back to Scotland, and back to the U.S. He concludes, “it is apparent Selikoff had an early struggle to qualify, but qualify he did.” That, and many of the other conclusions and suggestions of this paper may find their way into the asbestos courtroom, if they have not already.
Dr. Leonard J. Goldwater, whom I was fortunate to get to know and with whom I corresponded for several years after finding him alive and well after an expert witness in one of my cases testified that "Dr. Goldwater, if he were alive today, would tell you that by 1939 it was known that benzene caused leukemia", gave me this document out of his trove of articles and letters that he'd collected over a long and especially distinguished career.
In subsequent posts I'll relate some of his stories ranging from his testimony at the 1936 Gauley Bridge Disaster hearings before the U.S. Congress, to his work on benzene and blood dyscrasias in the late 1930's and early 1940's, through his extensive work on mercury and to his deposition testimony in the 1980's about the history of the knowledge of asbestos all gleaned from his work with the New York Department of Health, as Industrial Health Officer responsible for Navy shipyards during World War II and as a researcher and academic.