In fact, while the public was made aware of this in 1980, asbestos manufacturers and distributors knew about it as far back as the 1950s, and "made a concerted effort to hide the dangers of asbestos from the public, while at the same time profiting heavily from the sale and manufacture of harmful asbestos products," according to mesothelioma.com.
The cancer was first reported in the middle of the 19th century, although it wasn't until the 1950s, when there was a rise in incidence of the disease, that the cancer was further investigated, and a link between asbestos and mesothelioma was discovered.
According to asbestos.com, Dr. Rene Laennec, the same person who invented the stethoscope, discovered tumors in the pleural cavity, and he suggested that it could arise there. However, in 1843, Dr. Karl Frieherr von Rokitansky said pleural cancer was never formed in the pleural cavity, and must have metastasized from cancer that formed elsewhere in the body. It was Rokitansky's theory that was best accepted by the medical community.
Rokitansky, by the way, was also the first person to report cancerous cells inside the peritonial cavity, and was, therefore, probably the first person to report a case of peritonial mesothelioma.
curemeso.org notes that the disease was first discovered in the lymph nodes, and a theory developed that the disease started in the lymphatic system and made it's way to the mesothelial layer around the lungs. In 1891 it was discovered that the opposite twas true, that the cancer developed in the mesothelium.
In 1909 Dr. J.Gl Adama coined the term mesothelioma, although it was not until 1921 that the term mesothelioma was used to describe the cancer. In 1931 Dr. P. Klemperer and C.B. Rabid devised a series of tests and procedures that were used to properly diagnose the disease, and this allowed for better diagnosing occurred. With proper diagnosis, physicians and scientists were better able to investigate this disease.
As an increasing number of cases of the disease were reported during the 1930s and 1940s, more research was done on the disease. By asking questions of the victims, a link soon developed between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
It was (Dr. H.W.) Wedler in 1943 who reported a connection too high to be coincidental between asbestosis and pleural malignancy in a population of German asbestos workers. The analysis, which factually reported the connection but made no attempt to stamp the disease with a label, was widely accepted in Germany and ignored in the rest of the world. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that additional evidence rescued the observations of Wedler and began to build an irrefutable connection between the development of cancer from asbestos exposure.So by the 1950s this link was confirmed and well known by the manufacturers of the produce, but nothing was done about it. Some speculate that because of such negligence some 2-3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
It is for this reason that you hear so much from lawyers letting people know that if they or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma they may be able to hire a lawyer and seek compensation.