Caption for the above photograph: "Doramad was a toothpaste created in Germany in 1945. It was made by Auergesellschaft of Berlin, a company that was founded by the inventor of the gas lantern mantle, Carl Auer von Welsbach. On the back of the product’s tube it stated that ‘radioactive radiation increases the defenses of teeth and gums… cells are loaded with new life energy, the destroying effect of bacteria is hindered… it gently polishes the dental enamel and turns it white and shiny.’"
As part of nuclear-themed posts in the run-up to the Chernobyl anniversary on 26 April, this post covers radioactive elements in their heyday, right after they were first discovered. There was a time when radiation from these elements was associated with the power of the sun - and the future. As incredible as it may seem, radium, a highly radioactive element, was seen up to the middle of the last century as a health treatment. Radium was discovered in 1898 by Maria Skłodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre. New World Encyclopedia: "It was once used in luminescent paints on watch dials, and in the early twentieth century it was added to products like toothpaste, hair creams, and certain foodstuffs, based on the belief that it had curative properties. These ... uses were discontinued when the adverse effects of radium were discovered." The following are pictures of actual products - from toys to suppositories - that were marketed as revitalizing, empowering or inherently fascinating because they were radioactive.
Villemard (1910) - En L'An 2000 - Heating with Radium.
Villemard's 1910 postcard collection, which predicted what life would be like in 2000 (my post on that is here), included a picture of a room being heated with the power of radium. In fact, Villemard was not so far off: by 2000, France was one of the leading countries in the world to rely on nuclear power.
Radioactive products from the first half of the last century show just how profoundly wrong futurist predictions can be. Radioactive elements - and the nuclear weapons and power they spawned - were seen as the cutting edge materials and technologies of the future. And they were. That future is now the violent and tragic history of the twentieth century. In many ways, the twentieth century was a nuclear century. And because of what happened at places like Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl, our confidence in nuclear power and radioactive elements belongs to the past.
At the same time, the world seems poised to globally extend and expand the experiences of the last century in that regard. Radioactive elements, atomic theory and the splitting of the atom, nuclear power and weapons together form a common backdrop to the incredible possiblities of our quantum era on the one hand, and the threat of full-blown nuclear accidents, attacks and war on the other. And just in case you think we know better and we've moved past all that, radioactive products, including blankets, fridge deodorizers, and cigarette treatments with supposed healing properties have continued right up to the present day. If anything, these examples demonstrate that any new technology or related elixir that promises youth and curative properties should be given twelve decades to settle in before you try it. For a good essay summarizing radioactive quack cures, go here.
Uranium Glass in black light (19th-early 20th century still selectively made today). Image Source: Ebay.
Caption for the above photograph: "During the early 19th century glass makers in Central Europe started to use uranium as a good way to make yellow and green glass. In 1789 Martin Klaproth in Germany had first recognised uranium as a chemical element, and is said to have added it to glass as a colourant. But it was 50 years later that glassmakers in Bohemia, seeking new colours in a highly competitive market for glass, started to use uranium. The most striking thing about fluorescent or uranium glass is that it is radio-active. If you apply a geiger-counter you will get a positive reading. If you shine an ultra-violet light onto it, you will get a fluorescent green glow, like the picture above. But the levels are not, so far as we all believe, in any way harmful. Two pounds of uranium oxide were typically added to around 184 pounds of other constitutents. Tests conducted by Jay Glickman (reported in his book "Yellow-Green Vaseline: A Guide to the Magic Glass) and separate tests by Frank Fenton, of Fenton Glass, have shown that the radiation levels from even large quantities of uranium glass at close quarters are no more harmful than those associated with television sets or microwave ovens. ... Josef Reidel is usually credited with inventing uranium glass in 1830 under the names "Annagrun" for uranium yellowish- green glass, and "Annagelb" for uranium yellow glass, naming them after his wife Anna Maria. His factory, Dolny Polubny in Bohemia, made these kinds of uranium glass from 1830 to 1848. ... Uranium was a common source of yellow and green colouring for over a hundred years. In the 1940's it was banned as a glass constituent because uranium was used to make the atom bomb, there were fears for the health of glassworkers, and both US and UK Governments wanted to restrict access to uranium for military reasons. The British Government even confiscated large quantities of glass-making materials which had uranium in them just after the war. Bagley's of Yorkshire lost three tons of confiscated materials. ... During the 1950's these restrictions were lifted and some companies now use uranium as a colourant occasionally. However there are other chemicals which can now be used to produce the same colours, and the price of uranium oxide is high, so there is not likely to be a ressurgence of popularity for uranium glass manufacturing. There are also rigorous control regulations covering protective clothing for workers, lead shielding for storage areas, and monitoring of radiation. Small amounts have been made, usually small items and usually made for collectors. Boyd Glass and Fenton Art Glass are two USA companies that produce uranium glass items today.
It is not widely known that the "Burmese" glass made by the Mount Washington Glass Company from the mid 1880's, contained uranium. The formula for Burmese glass, patented by Frederick S. Shirley in December 1885, is:
100 pounds white sand
36 pounds lead oxide (refined)
25 pounds purified potash
7 pounds niter
5 pounds bicarbonate of soda
6 pounds fluor-spar
5 pounds feldspar
2 pounds uranium oxide
1.5 pennyweights colloidal gold"
Radium Heating Pad (1913). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: The product brochure ... is credited to "V. C. Ward, Discoverer, Shubrick Hotel, Salt Lake City, Utah." The pad itself reads "V. C. Ward, Mfgr., Los Angeles." The estimated date of manufacture, 1910 to 1915, is based on the fact that the testimonial letters cited in the brochure are all dated 1913."
Radium Water (early 20th century).
Caption for the above photograph: "During the early periods of the 20th century ceramic jars added radon to drinking water. The people at the Radium Ore Revigator advertised their product as ‘nature’s way to health’. Their ores released millions of tiny rays of radiation into the water, which they were aware of. Rather than rectify this danger though they claimed it was nothing but ‘healthful radioactive water.’" There are more pictures of radium water jars here.
Radithor medicine (1918-1928).
Caption for the above photograph: "Radithor was a well known form of medicine during the years between 1918 and 1928. It was manufactured by the Bailey Radium Laboratories and consisted of triple distilled water, which contained at a least one microcurie of Radium 226 and 228 isotopes. It was used for medicinal purposes and was said to cure stomach cancer, mental illness and restore sexual vigor and vitality. It was touted as being ‘Perpetual Sunshine’ until its reputation plummeted when Eben Byers, an American industrialist, was found dead. He drank a bottle a day for four years, which led to cancer of the jaw and an excruciatingly painful death."
Radio-Rem Emanator (c. 1920). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "The Radio-Rem (as in "radioactive-remedy") [Emanator, c. 1920] was manufactured by Schiefflin and Company of New York, a well-known pharmaceutical company. All eight bottles were filled with water and left to charge over a four day period. Inside each bottle was a radium-containing brownish-pink terra cotta rod which released radon into the water. According to the manufacturer's literature, the radium was in the form of radium sulphate.
After four days, one bottle would be consumed in the morning and a second bottle consumed in the afternoon. After drinking the water, the bottles were refilled and allowed to recharge. By the time the water in the eighth bottle had been consumed, the water in the first bottle would have had the necessary four days to recharge. A red plastic ring was used to keep track of which bottle was to be drunk next."
Radioactive Night-glow Wrist Watch (early 20th century).
Caption for the above photograph: "Watches were sold in the early 1900s that had luminescent faces that had been painted with radioactive paint. The most version of this being Undark, created by the United States Radium Corporation. Young women were hired to paint the watch faces and they used to lick the point of the bristles on the paint brushes to help moisten them. This led to serious casualties though as a result of severe radium ingestion. The women suffered facial bone disintegration and other dental problems."
The Radiendocrinator (c. 1930). Image Source: Environmental Graffiti.
The Radiendocrinator (c. 1930). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: The Radiendocrinator was intended to be placed over the endocrine glands to invigorate sexual virility and consisted of seven radium soaked pieces of paper, about the size and shape of a credit card, covered with a thin piece of clear plastic and two gold-wire screens. Men were advised to place the instrument under the scrotum at night like an ‘athletic strap'. The inventor of the Radiendocrinator (and Radithor), William J. Bailey, had so much faith in his products he claimed not only that he regularly used them, but that he had drunk more radium water than any living man - he died in 1949 of bladder cancer.
Vita Vita Radium Suppositories (c. 1930).
Caption for the above photograph: "Produced by the Home Products Company of Denver, Colorado these radioactive suppositories made men believe that they could be transformed from ‘weak discouraged men’ into strong, heroic males that would ‘bubble over with joyous vitality’. Amazingly this wasn’t all though; soluble radium was added into a cocoa butter base that was in the form of a suppository. This was then supposed to be fitted into the rectum in order to stimulate “the weakened organs that needed its vitalizing aid.’"
Vita Radium Suppositories (c. 1930). Image Source: Environmental Graffiti.
Bread made with radium water (c. 1920).
Caption for the above photograph: "Radioactive water was used in the mixing process in the production of loaves of bread. They were manufactured by the Hippman-Blach bakery in what is now the Czech Republic. Despite the actual technique of production potentially leading to high levels of radium the amount that was actually present in the bread was not deemed to be harmful. One simple mistake in the production process though and the bread could have been highly dangerous."
Caption for the above photograph: "Radium water from Joachimstal was used in the production of loaves manufactured by the Hippman-Blach bakery in what is now the Czech Republic. Although the production technique would have led to an increase in radium levels, the amount present in the bread was not dangerous."
ARIUM Radium Tablets (c. 1925). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "This tin container holds forty-two tablets of "genuine radium," and at the time of its manufacture only cost one dollar. Most of the tablets have broken open although a few are still intact. The manufacturer, Associated Radium Chemists, Inc. of New York, stated, "Take two tablets with glass of water before or after each meal. To derive the most beneficial effects, ARIUM should be taken regularly as directed. Quoting an advertisement that appeared in the February 9, 1923 issue of the Newark Ohio Advocate:
"Radium ends agony of rheumatism. Neuritis, neuralgia and gout. Say doctors - How Arium - radium in simple harmless tablets often bring amazingly quick and lasting relief to even seemingly hopeless cases. $5,000,000 reward if they fail."
An advertisement in the same paper the following week (February 16) states:
"Is rheumatism dragging you into old age? How radium reduces inflammation, relieves pain and renews the energy and vigor of youth - Arium now recommended by leading physicians as the new harmless way to obtain radium for internal use. $5,000 reward if they fail." ... The following is from an advertisement in the December 2, 1926 issue of the Zanesville Signal:
"Recent investigation shows that the "pep" energy, endurance and nerve force of the average man past 40 may often be increased by 100 per cent by getting into his system the marvelous restorative radium power of Arium."
To quote the Reverend H. McKenna of Texas, after taking Arium tablets "I feel like a kid." (from the December 11, 1925 issue of the Zanesville Signal.
Other fine radium-containing products from this company included Linarium (a liniment), Ointarium (an ointment), Dentarium (a dentifrice), and Kaparium (a hair tonic).
Size: 3" x 2" x 1. Exposure Rates: ca. 1-2 uR/hr above background at one foot, ca. 30 uR/hr above background on contact."
Radium chocolate (1931-1936).
Caption for the above photograph: "This schokolade bar was manufactured by Burk & Braun and was sold around Germany between 1931 and 1936. It was marketed with its power of rejuvenation as its focal selling point."
Tho-Radia face cream and powder (early 1930s). Image Source: Environmental Graffiti.
Caption for the above photograph: "Promising instant curative and beautifying effects, Tho-Radia gained wide popularity in France during the early 1930's as a range of beauty products and perfumes. The face cream was especially popular and contained of 0.5g thorium chloride and 0.25mg radium bromide per 100g. It was even advertised as a creation of ‘Dr. Alfred Curie' although he was not a member of the Curie family and probably never existed."
Radium-226 in this (Westinghouse?) lightbulb was verified by gamma spectroscopy (date not determined). Image Source: Washington State Dept. of Health via ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "This item is from the Office of Radiation Protection, Radiation Mystery Items - WA State Dept. of Health. As the title suggests people are not sure exactly what the bulb which contained a radioactive source, was used for."
Radium Watch Dial (early-to-late 20th century). Image Source: Oobject.
Caption for the above photograph: "The tale of radium watch dials is a sad one. To create luminous dials for wartime watches, dials were painted with radium. Many of the women in the paint factories received lethal doses of radiation." For information on radium watch dials go here.
Atomic Energy Lab (1951-1970s).
Caption for the above photograph: "The Atomic Energy Lab was a toy set that allowed children to conduct their own experiments with genuine radioactive materials. It first went on sale in 1951 and remained on sale until the 1970s. The materials were labelled as “safe” and did only contain low levels of radioactive materials, but I bet there still wouldn’t be many parents in today’s world that would let their young children play with uranium ore."
Atomic Energy Lab (1951-1970s). Image Source: Environmental Graffiti.
Endless Refrigerator / Freezer Deodorizer (c. 1983). Image Source: ORAU.
Nicotene Alkaloid Control Panel (NAC Plate; c. 1990). Image Source: ORAU.
Endless Refrigerator / Freezer Deodorizer (c. 1983). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: Approximately 20,000 of these deodorizers were sold or given away before Region IV of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified the distributor in Kansas that the device was in violation of 10 CFR 40.13, which limits source material to 0.05% by weight.
Size: 4" x 6" x 3/16" Exposure Rate: ca. 2 uR/hr above background at one foot
Some years ago, I was having lunch at a "Time Out Deli" in Oak Ridge and I struck up a conversation with a fellow at the adjacent table. It turned out that he was a health physicist (like me) who worked for Bechtel - their offices were in a nearby building. Since he happened to be from India, the conversation turned in the direction of things Indian, and when I mentioned that I liked Kingfisher beer, which came from the State of Kerala, he commented that he was from there. He went on to say that the previous year he had gone home for a visit and seen a Japanese company performing remedial action on the beaches. The monazite sands in Kerala are well known for their high levels of thorium. Apparently, the Japanese were loading the sand on a freighter and shipping it off somewhere, presumably for disposal. What a revelation! They were being paid by the Indian Government to clean up the beaches. They shipped the radioactive monazite to Japan where they incorporated it into consumer products (e.g., the Deod[o]rizers), and then they proceeded to sell the radioactive consumer products to Americans! And people say we don't know how to dispose of radioactive waste. In retrospect, I'm sure that this must have been understood by Japan and India to be a mining operation for the purpose of extracting monazite. Still, it's amusing to think that the Japanese were pretending to remediate the beaches.
Nicotene Alkaloid Control Panel (NAC Plate; c. 1990). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photographs: The NAC Plate was produced by Koei Bussan Co., Ltd. of Japan. In 1983 they contacted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking permission to market the plate in the U.S. The NRC indicated that the uranium concentration (ca. 1.1 pCi U-238/g) was low enough to be exempt from their regulations, and the FDA stated that such an item would not fall under their jurisdiction unless medical claims were made for the plate. Given the response of these federal agencies, it would seem that there was no legal barrier to selling the NAC plate in the U.S. Nevertheless, to my knowledge this was never done.
The NAC plate, just like the NICO Clean, is a metal plate, about the size of a credit card, with a low-grade uranium ore on one side. When slipped into a package of cigarettes, "ions emitted from natural ore denature and reduce nicotine, tar, and harmful gas without affecting the original tobacco taste." At least that's what the manufacturer claimed. And they have a patent to back it up: according to a U.S. Patent (#3,589,374), nicotine in the cigarettes will be reduced by 27% following a four hour exposure to a card with an activity of 150 cpm (counts per minute) cm2. The patent also describes how the cigarette may even taste milder after treatment if one has a "sensitive tongue."
The Nico Clean Tobacco Card (ca. 1990s).
NICO Clean Tobacco Card (c. 1990s). Image Sources: ORAU.
Caption for the above photographs: "The NICO Clean Plate was manufactured in Japan, and imported into the U.S. by Marine America, Inc., of Seattle. The NICO Clean plate, just like the NAC plate, is a metal plate about the size of a credit card, with a low-grade uranium ore on one side. According to the information on the back of the card, placing the NICO Clean in a package of cigarettes for twenty minutes would 'enhance your cigarette smoking while . . lowering tar and nicotine - 17% average . . . produce milder smoking with no sacrifice in taste . . . 50% reduction of toluene.'"
Still Available Today
Well Aqua Bar (2005). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "The Well Aqua Bar, as can be seen in the accompanying photograph, is a perforated stainless steel cylinder. It is filled with a thorium-containing ceramic whose purpose is to ionize the water in which the bar is immersed. The resulting ions are said to have an anti-fungal and antibacterial effect. Not only that, they are supposed to dechlorinate the water. The manufacturer recommends placing a bar for one minute in a glass of water or ten minutes in a liter of water to produce clear delicious water for drinking, cooking rice, washing fruits and vegetables, making ice, mixing whiskey and preparing tea or coffee. One of these bars is supposed to be good for two to three years and be capable of treating 1000 liters of water. Made by Nakano Tec Co., Ltd., Japan. Size: approximately 4" long and 5/8" in diameter; Price: approximately $30.
Count Rate: approximately 50 counts per minute above background as measured with a pancake GM probe."
Stayer’s Forearm Supporter (2005). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "Stayer's, a fabric developed by the Fuji Spinning Company, Ltd. of Japan (aka Fujibo), employs a thread impregnated with microscopic thorium-bearing ceramic particles.
According to the manufacturer, fabrics made with this material release natural radioactive gases and minus ions that have germicidal and deodorizing properties, and produce a soothing, relaxed feeling like that of a pleasant hot spring or forest. ... The ion-producing fiber is also used to produce knee and back supports for strains and sprains, in waist bands, wrist bands, neck bands, pillows, blankets, towels, bed sheets, mattress covers, shirts, socks, pajamas, lingerie, and underwear. Count rate: approximately 150 counts per minute above background with pancake GM.
Size: 3 1/2" x 8" Price: approximately $40."
Radic Hot Spring Ware (2005). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "Yoshimasa Watanabe, President of Only-One Company in Japan, developed the Radic Hot Spring Ware line of ceramic dishes, bowls, platters, cups and other kitchen ware.
The glaze on these products incorporates a small amount of thorium which is said to improve the taste of food or drink through the action of the ions produced by its emitted radiation. Hot Spring Ware is somewhat similar to red Fiesta Ware except that the latter employed a uranium-containing glaze and the fact that no benefits were supposed to derive from the radioactivity.
Size: 3 1/2" diameter and 3 1/4" tall
Count Rate: approximately 200 - 300 counts per minute above background measured with a pancake probe."
Tamagawa Onsen-no Hana (2005). Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "These porous paper envelopes, containing a mixture of sulfur and clay (kaolin), are distributed by the Yuze Hotel in Japan. The latter is located at a hot mineral spring reputed to have therapeutic properties.
Said to provide the benefits of hot mineral water (onsen) in the home, the packets are supposed to be squeezed (rather than opened) in 180 to 200 liters of bath water. Bathing in the water helps alleviate "skin rash, sprains, shoulder aches (tension), neuralgia (nervous pain), rheumatism, frostbite, hemorrhoids, chills, athletes foot, back ache, and jock itch." According to the manufacturer, it should only be used in wooden or porcelain tubs. After bathing, children are cautioned to wash off thoroughly.
The radioactive component, provided by the kaolin clay, is nearly pure thorium. Uranium is almost completely absent.
Count rate: approximately 300 counts per minute above background with pancake GM."
Radon Egg. Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "The Radon Egg is a hollow ceramic container that is intended to add radon and minerals to bath water. In effect, the goal is to turn your bathtub into a radon spa/mineral spring. The source of the minerals and radon is a handful of tablets that are made from crushed minerals containing approximately 1 microcurie of natural thorium. Since the source is thorium, the radon in question is Rn-220 rather than Rn-222 - radon-220 is often referred to as "thoron" whereas Rn-222 is what we normally think of when we think of radon.
The egg was originally developed by Akira Maruyama, a researcher at Daitoh Seni Corp. Norio Mizushima enlisted the services of Shoji Taoda, a well known Shigaraki procelain artist, to commercialize the product. According to the manufacturer, the radon gas released into the bath produces minus ions in the air which make you feel relaxed. The tablets also release minerals that are supposed to give the water a soothing feel.
As is the custom at Japanese spas, it is suggested you do not rinse with regular tap water after a radon bath."
Green Environment Health Bath Balls. Image Source: ORAU.
Caption for the above photograph: "1. Composition of Radium Ball:
Radium Ball is composed of Tourmaline, Maifan Stone, far infrared material, antibacterial material and negative ion etc natural mineral and functional material. And add radium mineral in the course of preparation. It is made by melting in different layers and at grades high temperature by adopting plasma technology to amalgamate sufficiently.
2. Its chemical composition as following:
Tourmaline: 23%; Maifan Stone: 5%; Far infrared material: 12%; Antibacterial material: 2%; Negative ion material: 5%; Multifunctional health care ceramic material: 3%; Ceramic material: 19%; Radium mineral: 30%; Complex additive: 1%
Efficacy of Radium Ball as follows:
1) Radium is called “spring elf” of hotspring. Radium Ball can dissolve fat and detoxified, and has function of boosting diuresis.
2) Cure gout affection, enhance metabolism, accelerate cell regeneration, absorb disease outcome and have antipyrotic function.
3) No matter drinking or balneation, both can excite hemopoietic organ so as to increase hemoleukocyte, and further lower blood pressure, relax vessel and reduce viscidity of blood.
4) Radium emanation belongs to fat solubility, which can penetrate into the end of neurilemma. Not only have relaxative efficacy to aches, such as neuralgia and neuritis, but also have surprised efficacy to chronic arthritis and muscle rheumatism etc.
5) Excited function of radium emanation to intestines: It can make heavy constipation symptom free and happy.
3. Specifications & Packing:
Three layers corrugated board packing, polypropylene plastic bag inner lined, 10kg/bag, 20kg/carton or 30kg/carton
4. Using Method:
1) Bath: Put functional balls into the net bag specially made. Soak the balls in bathtub for 20 minutes before bath. Then begin to bath.
2) Footbath: Put the balls evenly into a footbath when washing feet and put your feet on the balls to knead repeatedly.
3) Make-up: Use the ball 12 granules, put into a bottle and pour water into it. After having soaked for 30 minutes use this water to touch the skin gently."
For more products, go here.
Images of products and accompanying captions, except where otherwise indicated, are taken directly from an earlier piece on the site Urban Titan, which was posted in 2010 by James Massoud. A similar list with the same texts, posted by Thomas Davie, is here.
Links to, and depiction of, formerly and presently available products on this post in no way indicates my endorsement of them.
Links to, and depiction of, formerly and presently available products on this post in no way indicates my endorsement of them.