The materials used up until the 1950's involved cedar lath and plaster. Typically, two-inch cedar strips were tediously tacked to wall studs with small gaps left between them. Then a base coat of rough plaster mixed with horse hair was laid over the cedar. As the plaster squeezed between the lath, it created a grip to keep the plaster in place. Then usually, a top coat of finer plaster was laid over the rough base coat to create a smooth finished surface. That surface was typically wallpapered as was popular at the turn of the century.
With remodeling older homes, removing lath and plaster is sometimes necessary to easily access electrical wires and plumbing. I recently had the privilege of removing some distressed lath and plaster in my own basement.
I only needed to remove about 80 square feet of ceiling plaster. But, with us inhabiting the basement it was necessary to take precautions so I would not inundate our furnace with dust or have to give all our storage boxes a bath afterwards.
Plastic sheets were hung to contain the dust. A dust mask and disposable clothes were necessary as well. The ceiling came down in short order but the mess it created was immense. I removed 8 large (strong 3mm thick variety) garbage bags of debris. Each weighed in excess of 50 pounds.
How yesteryear's craftsmen installed this stuff in the first place is remarkable to me. They had to be work horses to do the job, I am sure. Fortunately, it doesn't take too much skill to take it down.
Underneath that formerly white mask and formerly black hat, I am smiling.