02/19/2014 06:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Exhibit Reveals Scent Of Industrial Revolution And Other Horrid Historical Smells

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History stinks. And if you’ve ever wondered how badly, you can now take a whiff of it at a new aroma exhibit in San Francisco.

Urban Olfactory, a free exhibit at San Francisco’s SPUR, invites visitors to travel through time and space by sticking their noses into 18 different vessels containing scents ranging from library and pollution to New Jersey Turnpike and Paris 1738 -- which boasts notes of “foul breath, human body stink and overflowing gutters.”


Curated by David Gissen and Irene Cheng of the California College of the Arts and featuring scents concocted by renowned perfurmers like France’s Christophe Laudamiel, the exhibit commemorates historians’ efforts over the past decade to record and reconstruct history’s odors to better understand the sense’s force in driving change. Get anywhere near the pollution vitrine -- a nauseating sample of what San Francisco smelled like following the Industrial Revolution -- and the demand for air quality regulations in the last century will make all the more sense.

“In one moment you sense all this environmental degradation that was going on," Gissen told The Atlantic. If you want to sniff for yourself, eau de pollution is available for purchase from Dale Air Company, though we think its description of the product as “rather unpleasant” is a vast understatement.

Offended nostrils can seek out SPUR’s wine glasses full of coffee beans or gentler scents, like salt air or the oddly pleasant smell of manure in the French countryside.

Urban Olfactory runs until March 31.



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