It’s 2017, and everyone knows that Radium is, well, radioactive. It’s in the name. It’s bad.
But, what if we didn’t know? In 1896, radiation was discovered. Only two years later, radium was discovered. To put that in perspective, two years ago, in 2015, water on Mars was discovered. Many of us know of that now, but beyond that, we are largely clueless. I don’t know anything more than that on the topic. If the masses of the present day don’t have any updates on news from two years ago, imagine how left out the masses were in a time where news didn’t travel so fast!
Now you know that for the most part, nobody really knew much about radium or radioactivity at the time they were most relevant. Incorporate into that an understanding of the time period, how little workers and consumers were protected, and a universally greed-based set of economies, and you are left with a recipe for disaster!
Allow me to begin the fun story of how humanity became acquainted with one of the most toxic elements on Earth.
The way I came to learn this story began with clocks- and so, I impart upon you the same:
In the early 1900’s, radium was a very popular “hot new thing”. Many companies used it as a beauty supplement, in medicines, and digestible other products. This may not surprise you; we are all familiar with the now-ridiculous health supplements of the early 1900’s, advertising things as dangerous as chloroform in the form of cough suppressants. However, it may surprise you that basic, everyday products were just as insane as the medicines of the past. This, of course, included clocks. Remarkably enough, the enchanting glow of radium (AKA the release decaying, toxic radioactive particles) was so attractive that clock manufacturers would actually paint the faces, numbers, or hands of their products with radium-laden paint to get that “glow in the dark” feature. Innocently enough, as you can see in the actual advertisement above, there was no mention of radium to explain this glow. It was simply a feature that the average consumer wanted (and still wants). You might be able to draw a comparison to how lead was once treated, because it was used as a thickening agent for paints, and such a useful metal for other goods.
Bear in mind that mechanized production was just barely becoming commonplace at this time. In other words, these clocks were being painted by hand, by humans. That’s a problem. Can you see where this might lead?
This post is just to warm you up to the reality of radium in the 20th century. The people who became involved, to me, they are what is about to make this story truly interesting. But, since a background had to be given, it’s best to leave the other half of the story for it’s own page, next time.
Until then, enjoy this real advertisement of a radium SUPPOSITORY
In case it’s TLDR (too long, didn’t read), here’s the prime tidbits:
“After insertion, the suppository quickly dissolves and the Radium is absorbed by the walls of the colon” (oh god)
“[…] within a few minutes, it enters the blood stream and traverses the entire body” (I didn’t think it could get worse)
“Every tissue, every organ of the body is [BOMBARDED] by its health-giving electric atoms.”
And with that, I leave you.