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27. Radioactive Reality I: The Road to Discovery and Beyond

Last Updated: 4th Dec 2016

By Frank Festa

Post Date: December 4, 2016

Radioactive Reality I: The Road to Discovery and Beyond


Radioactive……… No that does not refer to turning the dial on your radio and searching for your favorite broadcast station. What does this word infer to you? Does it conjure up an apocalyptic earth? Maybe you see it as a medical miracle? Maybe you really never gave it much thought? Whatever your mind comes up with when hearing of seeing this word, a definition, a mental image, a fearful thought, a lifesaving procedure, a naturally occurring mineral, everyone has their own opinion on the subject.

During the summer of 2016, I gave separate presentations to two vastly different age groups of people concerning radioactivity. Group “A”, all senior citizens aged 65 and older. Members in this group grew up during the Great Depression of 1929 – 1939, World War II, the atomic bomb, the Cold War, Korea, the hydrogen bomb, cure for polio, McCarthyism, McDonalds, Disneyland, Rosa Parks and men on the moon. All the members of this group grew up in and are U.S. citizens. All but one served in the armed forces. This groups thoughts of radioactivity was far different from that of Group “B”. Group “B”, a group of Boy Scouts ranging in age from 12 – 17 years. They have no attachments to the events Group A had. Many of us have had or have children in this age group. We already are aware of the things they are growing up with: computers, cell phones, video games, texting, pressures associated with schooling, peer pressures, drugs, wanting to fit in, music, guns and knives in school. Radioactivity isn’t part of their concerns. Unlike Group A, who have very imaginative thoughts on the subject, Group B was never connected to it. What would other groups in other countries think???

To understand a word, an idea, an event it is always best to start at a historical beginning working from there. And, this is where we shall begin. Did you know radioactivity was unknown and unheard of before 1896? Just a mere 120 years ago. Which in the scheme of things wasn’t all that long ago. Just to get our historical bearings and plant our feet, so-to-speak, let’s explore on the timeline and see what was occurring during the years 1850 to 1890. The well-known “potato chip” invented in 1853, The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, 1855 saw the Bessemer process enable steel to be mass-produced, 1857 The Supreme Court of the United States, in the Dred Scott case, rules that African Americans, free or slave, are not citizens and have no recourse in federal courts, 1859 was a busy year: Charles Darwin publishes, John Tyndall describes carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor trapping heat in the atmosphere, he suggests that change in the concentration of gases could bring climate change, the first successful oil well in the United States is drilled, rabbits are brought to Australia, which will produce an ecology disaster, civil war in the USA, presidential assignation, Dmitri Mendeleev and the Periodic table, a gold spike unites east and west, William Crookes invented the Crookes tube, cathode rays, Mrs. O'Leary's cow, Black Hills gold, “Yellow Hair’ and the 7th Calvary, Koch, Bismarck, Marx dies, Hertz, The German Emperor dies. His son, Friederich III, dies of throat cancer after reigning 99 days. Friederich's son, Wilhelm II, son of Queen Victoria's politically liberal daughter, Vicki, becomes emperor, telephone, phonograph, the fountain pen, Vincent Van Gogh commits suicide, Statue of Liberty, Tesla, Eastman, Eiffel Tower, Adolf Hitler born, traffic stop sign invented, Jessie James killed, Czar Nicholas II of Russia was assassinated, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Automobiles with gasoline-powered internal combustion engines.

The above was an extremely abridged rendition of past events but it does gave us a small window to look back into time and hear of a handful of a few events taking place. These and all the events that were occurring during this time period 1850 – 1890 affected and played a part in the development and shaping of the lives of those who will be mentioned below. Even as today’s events shape our lives, so it has been over the course of human history.

Throughout the course of time, bits and pieces of answers to the infinite number of questions man has been asking since the dawn of time rise to the surface. As each piece of a puzzle is added to the whole, patterns slowly begin to emerge. A single piece grows into multiple pieces, multiple pieces grow into entire sections, revealing previously unseen or unknown possibilities. And, when enough of the pieces are connected, a picture is revealed and an answer to an age old question find each other.

Follow how the pieces, all separated by time but all interconnected became interlocked from person to person, and discovery to discovery when finally the clouds cleared and it becomes all clear. Also, please remember, presented here are only snippets of information. As with past articles, information of historical value is always most important. Please… independent research of the people mentioned here will give you a far better view and a much deeper understanding of the discoveries taking place.

Also, please remember some of the terms and/or explanations here may not have been known or were unknown at the time a particular discovery was made. It took years to fill-in all the blanks. Also, detailing the following events can not be accomplished here. You the reader must research that which interests you.

William Herschel (1738 – 1822) is credited with the discovery of the planet Uranus due to the use of a telescope. He named his new planet the “Georgian Star” after King George III, which brought him great favor with the king. While in France, any reference to the British king was to be avoided if possible. The new name was not universally adopted. The name “Herschel” eased political tensions. Ultimately, it was the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode who argued that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be named for the father of Saturn, Uranus. With all parties involved the reasoning being sound, accepted the new planet and formally named it Uranus. This planet is visible to the naked eye. But, ancient observers did not recognized it as a planet because in the night sky it is quite dim making it difficult to observe and its slow orbit was not as other planets were. Herschel announced his discovery on March 13, 1781. Uranus had been observed on many occasions before its recognition as a planet, but it was generally mistaken for a star. The earliest recorded definite sighting was by John Flamsteed in 1690. He observed it at least six times, cataloging it as 34 Tauri. The French astronomer Pierre Lemonnier observed this planet at least twelve times between 1750 and 1769, including a string of four consecutive nights.

Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743 - 1817) a German chemist, while working in his laboratory in 1789, dissolved pitchblende in nitric acid and precipitated a yellow compound. A single drop of nitric acid on pitchblende will cause it to become fluorescent. Klaproth assumed the yellow substance was the oxide of an undiscovered element. He heated the compound with charcoal and ended up with a black powder. This, he thought was his newly discovered metal. Klaproth named his discovered element, Uranium, after the newly discovered planet Uranus, eight years earlier.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 1841, fifty years later, when Eugene Melchior Peligot, Professor of Analytical Chemistry in Paris, isolated the first sample of uranium metal by heating uranium tetrachloride with potassium. The powder that Klaproth’s found was an oxide of uranium and not the real deal.

Uranium had very few uses throughout early recorded time. Archeological information states, in its natural oxide form, Uranium dates back to at least the year 79 when it was being used as an additive in ceramic glazes to produce a yellow color. In the late Middle Ages, pitchblende was being hauled away as waste rock from the Habsburg silver mines in Joachimsthal, Bohemia. Yellow glass with 1% uranium oxide was found in a Roman villa 1912.

Pechblende, the bad luck mineral, as the German miners of Joachimsthal called it. Pechblende has been documented since about 1750. When it was found in an active vein of silver but when the silver “played out” obviously the reason for bad luck. Pitchblende was considered a zinc or iron ore (big difference). Though having no value at the time, it was considered waste rock, hauled to the surface and dumped in heaps all through the forest just to get rid of it. In 1774, pitchblende was recorded as being found in the Geyer silver vein and in the silver veins opened in the drift named “Saxon-Noble-Men” (Edelleutestollen).

In early 19th century however, Uranium compounds were now being used as dyeing agents, pitchblende was being searched for in the silver mining dumps. Later digging for pitchblende in the old dumps was recorded in 1843. In 1865, digging in the dump of the Emperor Josef Mine produced 400 pounds of pitchblende. Since 1830, occasional underground mining took place according to demand. Since the price of uranium ores kept rising, mining officials reopened several of deep levels of several existing shafts: Svornost, Werner's mine (Rovnost) and Bratrství (drift of Saxon-noble-men) not for silver but for pitchblende.

The Imperial and Royal Uranium Yellow Factory or The Uranium Dye Factory came into being in 1855. Adolph Patera had developed an improved method for ceramic and glass dye production in 1844. The dye factory took over the old Schlick factory formally used as the silver smelting building. The factory produced 10 ton of uranium dyes per year. The factory produced eight various types of yellow color and production of orange color started in 1858. The ore used in the factory was high-grade hand-sorted pitchblende containing 57 % U3O8 by weight and concentrate containing 52 % U3O8 . The waste material contained 0.25 % U3O8 . Because of the high quality material being produced, the colors were in high demand, being exported to Great Britain and France. At that time, color production was the main and the most profitable commodity of the Joachimsthal mines. From 1868, dye colorants remained the single product.

Pitchblende also known by the name uraninite, and is a mineral comprised mainly of oxides of the element uranium, UO2 and UO3. It is the primary source of uranium. The mineral is black in color, like “pitch” (tar). The term “blende” came from the German miners who believed it contained many different metals all blended together.

In the early 19th century, the world's only known source of uranium ore were from these mines. Uranium glass or Vaseline glass was still being made up and into the 1940’s. The cold war and the availability of uranium ended most glassware and ceramic production. The most typical color of uranium glass is pale yellowish-green, which in the 1920s led to the nickname “Vaseline glass” based on its resemblance to a jar of petroleum jelly. Petroleum jelly or Vaseline is a semi solid jellylike mixture of hydrocarbons. It was originally sold as a topical ointment for its healing properties. First discovered in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, United States on the early oil rigs. The oil workers used it on cuts and burns because they believed it hastened healing. The term Vaseline glass is frequently used for any uranium glass, especially in the United States, but this usage is not universal. The term is sometimes inappropriately applied to other types of glass due to their appearance in normal light. True Vaseline glass is fluorescent under a ultraviolet light giving off an intense bright green glow.

Uranium glass is glass which has had uranium, usually in the oxide diuranate form, is added to a glass mix before melting. The uranium is used for coloration. The proportion varies from trace levels to about 2% by weight uranium, although some 20th-century pieces were made with up to 25% uranium. By the 1840s, many European glassworks began to produce uranium glass items and develop new varieties of uranium glass. The Baccarat glassworks in France created an opaque green uranium glass which they named chrysoprase from its similarity to that green form of chalcedony. Uranium glass greatest popularity was during the 1880s to the 1920s. The first major producer of items made of uranium glass is commonly recognized as Austrian Franz Xaver Riedel, who named the glass after his daughter Anna Maria Riedel. By the end of the 19th century, glassmakers discovered that with the addition of certain minerals, uranium glass could be tempered inducing varying degrees of micro-crystallization. This produced a range of opaque glasses from the traditional transparent yellow or yellow-green to an opaque white. During the Depression years, it was found that with the addition of extra iron oxide added to the mixture a greener glass could be made. Uranium glass was once made into tableware and household items. This material, technically a glass ceramic, acquired the name "vaseline glass" because of its supposedly similar appearance to petroleum jelly. US production of uranium glasses ceased during World War II because of the US government's confiscation of uranium supplies, and did not resume until 1958. But again, fell out of widespread use when the availability of uranium to most industries was sharply curtailed during the Cold War in the 1940s to 1990s. Most such objects are now considered antiques or retro-era collectibles.

Uranium Glass 1

Uranium Glass 1a

Uranium Glass 2

Uranium Glass 2a

A German physicist and skilled glassblower Heinrich Geissler (1814-1879) moved from different universities finding work. At the University of Bonn in 1852, Geissler settled in at a workshop of his own as an instrument-maker. It was here that Julius Plucker, a German mathematician and physicist. Plucker asked Geissler to design an apparatus for evacuating a glass tube. Plucker, himself made contributions in the field of analytical geometry and was a pioneer with experimenting with cathode rays.

Geissler was able to make a hand-cranked mercury pump for Plucker. When his glass tubes were evacuated they were capable of a very good vacuum. The Geissler Tube, as it became known as, was an early gas discharge tube. It was used to demonstrate the principles of electrical glow discharge. Think of neon lighting, a Geissler Tube is very similar. The tube was a sealed glass cylinder of various shapes with a metal electrode at each end used to conduct electricity. The tube was partially evacuated and filled with gasses such as neon, argon, mercury vapor and others or ionizable minerals and/or metals, like sodium. When a high voltage is applied between the electrodes, an electrical current would flow through the tube. As the current flows t forces electrons from the gas molecules, in turn creating ions. When these electrons recombine with the ions, the gas emits fluorescent light. The color of this light is characteristic of the material contained within the tube. However, Geissler tubes could not reach the low vacuum needed, the electrons contained within the glass could only travel a short distance before hitting a gas molecule. So the current of electrons moved in a slow process, constantly colliding with gas molecules and never gaining much energy. These tubes did not create beams of cathode rays, only the colorful glow from the gas discharge as electrons struck the gas molecules and excited them, producing light.

Geissler tubes soon became novelty items. The glass tubes were formed into many artistic shapes and colors and demonstrate the new science of electricity. In the early 20th century, neon lighting was born. Because the color of the emitted light depends on the gas in the tube, neon gas gives off an orange light, hydrogen (red), helium (yellow), carbon dioxide (white), and mercury (blue). Neon tubes can be fabricated in curving artistic shapes, to form letters or pictures.

Farther developments in Plucker and Geissler's discharge tube technology developed into the Crookes tube. For his contribution, Geissler was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1868.

William Crookes (1832 – 1919) Crookes, man of many talents: a meteorologist, lecture giver, worked in chemistry and physics. He was interested in pure and applied science, economic and practical problems, and psychiatric research. Through the method of spectral analysis, introduced by Bunsen and Kirchhoff, Crookes discovered the element thallium, announced in 1861, and made with the help of spectroscopy. He published numerous papers on spectroscopy. During experimentation with what was termed “Crookes Tubes” in which the conduction of electricity through different gasses under low pressure in an evacuated glass container, he discovered that as the pressure inside the tube was lowered, the negative electrode (cathode) appeared to emit unknown rays. These rays would later became known as "cathode rays”. Crookes among several others investigated the properties of these rays. They were shown to travel in straight lines, cause fluorescence when they fall on some substances, and that their impact can produce great heat. Crookes was among other things, the inventor of the Crookes radiometer. This is an incredible device, now being sold as a novelty. And, yes, I have one. (check the Internet, you may recognize it) Crookes identified the first known sample of helium, in 1895.

Crookes Tubes… Crookes tubes resulted from the evolution of the earlier Geissler tubes. By the 1870s, William Crookes and other researchers were able to evacuate the tubes to a much lower pressure, using an improved Sprengel mercury vacuum pump invented by Charles A. Gimingham. Crookes found that as he pumped more air out of his tubes, a dark area in the glowing gas formed next to the cathode. As the pressure got lower, the dark area, now called the “Crookes dark space”, spread down the tube, until the inside of the tube was totally dark. However, the tube began to glow at the anode end.

What was happening was that as more air was pumped out of the tube, there were fewer gas molecules to obstruct the motion of the electrons from the cathode, so they could travel a longer distance before they struck one. By the time the inside of the tube became dark, they were able to travel in straight lines from the cathode to the anode, without a collision. They were accelerated to a high velocity by the electric field between the electrodes, both because they did not lose energy to collisions, and also because Crookes tubes were operated at a higher voltage. By the time they reached the anode end of the tube, they were going so fast that many flew past the anode and hit the glass wall. The electrons themselves were invisible, but when they hit the glass walls of the tube they excited the atoms in the glass, making them give off light or fluoresce, usually yellow-green. Later experimenters painted the back wall of Crookes tubes with fluorescent paint, to make the beams more visible.

This fluorescence allowed researchers to notice that objects in the tube, such as the anode, cast a crisp shadow on the tube wall. At the time, atoms were the smallest particles known, the electron was unknown as of yet, and what carried electric currents was a total mystery. Many ingenious types of Crookes tubes were built to determine the properties of cathode rays. The high energy beams of pure electrons in the tubes revealed their properties far better than electrons flowing in wires.
After years of use as an experimental tool and with the advancement in gas tubes, the Crookes tubes followed the Geisser Tubes. The old used Crookes tubes became unreliable and temperamental both in the energy and the quantity of cathode rays they produced. Over time the gas inside the tube was absorbed by the walls of the tube, reducing the pressure. Reduced pressure reduced the amount of cathode rays produced and caused the voltage across the tube to increase, creating more energetic cathode rays. Soon the pressure got so low the tube stopped working entirely. But, at the time they were cutting edge technology.

Electronic vacuum tubes invented around 1906 superseded the Crookes tube. These tubes operated at a pressure even lower than the Crookes tubes. They use a heated filament or hot cathode which released electrons by thermionic emission and not by ionization. The advantage here was far fewer gas molecules in the container. The technology of manipulating electron beams pioneered in Crookes tubes was applied in the design of vacuum tubes, and particularly in the invention of the cathode ray tube by Ferdinand Braun in 1897.

Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard (1862 – 1947) was a German physicist and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1905 for his research on cathode rays. Lenard began his study on cathode rays in 1888. Prior to his work, cathode rays were produced in partially evacuated glass tubes that had metallic electrodes where a high voltage could be placed. Cathode rays were difficult to study because they were inside sealed glass tubes, in the presence of air molecules. Lenard overcame these problems by devising a method of making small metallic windows in the glass that were thick enough to be able to withstand the pressure differences, but thin enough to allow passage of the rays. Having made a window for the rays, he could pass them out into the laboratory or into another chamber that was completely evacuated. These windows have come to be known as “Lenard windows”. He was able to detect the rays and measure their intensity by means of paper sheets coated with phosphorescent materials.
Lenard observed that the absorption of the rays was proportional to the density of the material they were made to pass through. This suggestion however contradicted with the idea that they were some sort of electromagnetic radiation as was commonly thought. He also showed that the rays could pass through several inches of air and would be scattered by it. This suggested that they must be particles that were even smaller than the molecules in air. He confirmed some of J. J. Thomson's work, which suggested that cathode rays were streams of negatively charged energetic particles. He called them quanta of electricity or for short quanta, after Helmholtz. J. J. Thomson proposed the name corpuscles. Later the accepted name was electrons.

As a result of his Crookes tube investigations, he showed that the rays produced by irradiating metals in a vacuum with ultraviolet light were similar in many respects to cathode rays. His most important observations was that the energy of the rays was independent of the light intensity, but was greater for shorter wavelengths of light.

These latter observations were explained by Albert Einstein as a quantum effect. This theory predicted that the plot of the cathode ray energy versus the frequency would be a straight line with a slope equal to Planck's constant, h. This was shown to be the case some years later. The photo-electric quantum theory was the work cited when Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Lenard was an outspoken skeptic of relativity and of Einstein's theories in general.

Lenard is sadly remembered as a strong German nationalist who despised what he called "English physics". He said the English stole their ideas of physics from Germany. He joined the National Socialist Party before it became politically necessary or popular to do so. During the Nazi regime, he was the outspoken proponent that Germany should rely only on "Deutsche Physik" and ignore what he considered the fallacious and deliberately misleading ideas of "Jewish physics". What he meant was the theories of Albert Einstein, including "the Jewish fraud" of relativity. Lenard became an advisor to Adolf Hitler and was the Chief of Aryan physics under the Nazis.

Johann Wilhelm Hittorf (1824 – 1914) a German physicist, the first to compute the electricity-carrying capacity of charged atoms and molecules (ions), an important factor in understanding electrochemical reactions. He formulated ion transport numbers and the first method for their measurements.Using Crookes Tubes, he observe rays of energy extending from a negative electrode. These rays produced a fluorescence when they hit the glass walls of the tubes. In 1876 the effect was named "cathode rays" by Eugen Goldstein.

Eugen Goldstein (1850 – 1930) a German physicist. He was an early investigator of discharge tubes. He was the discoverer of anode rays, and is sometimes credited with the discovery of the proton. In the 1870s Goldstein conducted experimentation with discharge tubes. He named the light being emitted from a discharge tube as Kathodenstrahlen, or cathode rays. His experiments led to the discovery of several important properties of cathode rays. He found that cathode rays were emitted perpendicular from a metal surface and they carried energy. He attempted to measure their velocity by the Doppler shift of spectral lines in the glow emitted from Crookes tubes.

In 1886, his experimentation went in a different direction, instead of using a solid cathode he used one filled with holes and found it also emitted a glow at the cathode end. Goldstein concluded that in addition to the already-known cathode rays, there is another ray that travels in the opposite direction, from cathode toward the positively charged anode. He observed that these unknown rays were emitted from the negative electrode which could cast shadows on the glowing wall of the tube, indicating the rays were traveling in straight lines. Because these “other” rays passed through the perforation holes, or channels as he called them, in the cathode, Goldstein called them Kanalstrahlen, or canal rays.

In 1890, Arthur Schuster demonstrated cathode rays could be deflected by electric fields. Schuster is credited with coining the concept of "antimatter" in two letters to Nature in 1898. William Crookes demonstrated cathode rays could be deflected by magnetic fields

Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen 1845 – 1923) a German mechanical engineer and physicist. In 1895, while investigating the external effects from the various types of vacuum tube equipment, equipment where an electrical discharge is passed through it. Rontgen was repeating an experiment with a Lenard tube. A Lenard tube is an early cathode-ray tube, which has at the end opposite the cathode a window of thin glass or metal allowing cathode rays (Lenard rays) to pass out into the atmosphere similar to a Crookes tube with the addition of a thin aluminium window added to permit the cathode rays to exit the tube. A cardboard covering was also added to protect the aluminium from being damaged by the strong electrostatic field needed to produce the cathode rays. The cardboard covering should have prevented any light from escaping, yet Rontgen noticed a fluorescent effect on his small cardboard screen painted with barium platinocyanide when it was placed close to the aluminum window. Rontgen wondered what if the Hittorf-Crookes tube, which had a much thicker glass wall than the Lenard tube, might also cause this fluorescent effect. Rontgen constructed a black cardboard covering similar to the one he had used on the Lenard tube, he covered the Hittorf-Crookes tube with the cardboard and attached a power source to generate the charge. Rontgen darkened the room to test his cardboard cover for leakage. When he was satisfied the cover was light-tight, he passed the charge through the tube. It was here that Rontgen noticed a faint flickering of light on a bench a few feet away from the tube. Not knowing what when wrong, he repeating the procedure several more times. With each test he continued to see the same flickering light. Rontgen stopped the experiment to see what was happening and to his amazement, the light was coming from the barium platinocyanide screen he had been intending to use next but had not set it up yet. Rontgen speculated he may have stumbled upon still yet another new kind of ray. He spent the following weeks in his laboratory studying the many properties of the new rays. But, for lack of a name, he simply used the mathematical designation ("X") for something unknown in his notes. Later the new rays came to bear his name as "Rontgen Rays".

Rontgen tried various materials to stop the rays. He placed a small piece of lead in position while a discharge was occurring and thus creating the first radiographic image. He later reported that it was at this point that he determined to continue his experiments in secrecy, because he feared for his professional reputation. Just in case his observations were in error.
Two weeks after his discovery, he took the very first picture using X-rays, using as his volunteer, the hand of his wife. It was a breath taking picture. Imagine seeing an X-ray photograph for the first time. Rontgen published on December 28, 1895 and on January 5, 1896, an Austrian newspaper reported his discovery of a new type of radiation. He published a total of three papers on X-rays between 1895 and 1897.

In January 1896, the French mathematician Jules-Henri Poincare had received a letter from Rontgen, which contained several surprising photographs that showed the outline of bones within a hand. In the letter, Rontgen explained that the images had been taken with a new discovery, the X-ray. Poincare was astonished, and reproduced the images himself. Poincare presented his own images at the Academy two weeks later, to enthusiastic response.

A French scientist named Henri Becquerel, had long been interested in phosphorescence. Phosphorescence is an effect in which some chemicals re-emit light that they absorb. Phosphorescent materials can be recharged by being exposed to light and may store light for several hours before it is re-emitted. Becquerel first heard about Roentgen’s discovery in January 1896 at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences. Becquerel began looking for a connection between the phosphorescence that he had already been investigating and the newly discovered x-rays. Becquerel thought that the phosphorescent uranium salts he had been studying might absorb sunlight and reemit it as x-rays.

Becquerel describing his experiments to the French Academy of Sciences on February 27, 1896, he stated:
One wraps a “Lumiere” (early film makers) photographic plate with a bromide emulsion in two sheets of very thick black paper, such that the plate does not become clouded upon being exposed to the sun for a day. One places on the sheet of paper, on the outside, a slab of the phosphorescent substance, and one exposes the whole to the sun for several hours. When one then develops the photographic plate, one recognizes that the silhouette of the phosphorescent substance appears in black on the negative. If one places between the phosphorescent substance and the paper a piece of money or a metal screen pierced with a cut-out design, one sees the image of these objects appear on the negative ... One must conclude from these experiments that the phosphorescent substance in question emits rays which pass through the opaque paper and reduce silver salts.
But unfortunately after further experimentation, Becquerel first doubted and then abandon this hypothesis.

Later in March of 1896 he reported:
I will insist particularly upon the following fact, which seems to me quite important and beyond the phenomena which one could expect to observe: The same crystalline crusts (of potassium uranyl sulfate), arranged the same way with respect to the photographic plates, in the same conditions and through the same screens, but sheltered from the excitation of incident rays and kept in darkness, still produce the same photographic images. Here is how I was led to make this observation: among the preceding experiments, some had been prepared on Wednesday the 26th and Thursday the 27th of February, and since the sun was out only intermittently on these days, I kept the apparatuses prepared and returned the cases to the darkness of a bureau drawer, leaving in place the crusts of the uranium salt. Since the sun did not come out in the following days, I developed the photographic plates on the 1st of March, expecting to find the images very weak. Instead the silhouettes appeared with great intensity. One hypothesis which presents itself to the mind naturally enough would be to suppose that these rays, whose effects have a great similarity to the effects produced by the rays studied by M. Lenard and M. Rontgen, are invisible rays emitted by phosphorescence and persisting infinitely longer than the duration of the luminous rays emitted by these bodies. However, the present experiments, without being contrary to this hypothesis, do not warrant this conclusion. I hope that the experiments which I am pursuing at the moment will be able to bring some clarification to this new class of phenomena.

After additional experiments using non-phosphorescent uranium salts, his explanation did bring clarification to this new class of phenomena , namely that the penetrating radiation came from the uranium itself without any need for excitation by an external energy source, this was in May 1896. These strange uranium rays were called “Becquerel Rays” for a short time.

The following is from an article titled “Emission of New Radiations by Metallic Uranium” by Henri Becquerel. This article was found in the magazine:

Electricity, A Popular Electrical and Financial Journal, Electricity Newspaper Co., 186 Liberty Street, New York, Volume Xl, Nos. 1 to 26 inclusive, July 15, l896 - January 6, I897

Emission of New Radiations by Metallic Uranium by H. Becquerel

A few months ago, I showed that uranium salts emit radiations whose existence had not been recognized and that these radiations enjoyed some remarkable properties, some of which are comparable with the properties of the radiation studied by Rontgen. The radiations of the uranium salts are emitted not only when the substances are exposed to light, but even when they are kept in darkness, and for more than two months the same fragments of various salts, shielded from all the exciting radiation known, have continued to emit the new rays, almost without perceptible wakening. From the third of March to the third of May these substances were shut up in a box of opaque cardboard. Since May third they have been placed in a double lead box which never leaves the darkroom. A very simple arrangement allows a photographic plate to slip underneath a black paper stretched parallel with the bottom of the box on which the substances under experiment
rest, without these substances being exposed to any radiation which does not penetrate the lead. Under these conditions the substances studied continue to emit active radiations. If a fragment of one of the salts kept in darkness is exposed to the sun, or better, to the electric arc or to the spark from the discharge of a Leyden jar, it receives a slight excitation from the emission of the radiations we are studying, but this excitation falls in a few hour, and the substance resumes its state of very slow decrease. I have also shown that these radiations are reflected and refracted as light is; they decompose the silver salts of a photographic plate and the silver iodide deposited on a daguerro type plate. They discharge electrified bodies and penetrate substances opaque to light, such as cardboard, aluminium, copper, and platinum. The weakening of these radiations by screens of the substances we have just mentioned is less than the weakening of the radiation emanating from the anticathode wall of a Crookes tube by the same screens. All the salts of uranium I have studied, whether phosphorescent or not with respect to light, crystallized, fused, or in solution, have given comparable results. Thus I have been led to think that the effect was due to the presence in these salts of the element uranium, and that the metal would give more intense effects than its compounds would. A few weeks ago an experiment with a commercial power of uranium which had long been in my laboratory confirmed this prediction; the photographic effect is notably stronger than the impression produced by one of the salts of uranium, and, in particular, by uranium–potassium sulfate. Before publishing this results, I wanted to wait until our colleague, M. Moissan, whose beautiful investigations on uranium are being published today could put some of the products he had prepared at my disposal. The results were even more clear–cut, and the impressions obtained on a photographic plate through black paper with crystallized uranium, with cast uranium, and with the carbide, were much more intense than with the double sulfate put for comparison on the same plate.

The same difference is found again in the phenomenon of the discharge of electrified bodies. Metallic uranium promotes the dissipation of charge with a greater speed than the salts do. The following numbers, relating to the action of a disc of cast uranium which M. Moissan has obligingly lent me, give an idea of the order of magnitude of this increase. In a first series of measurements, the disc of cast uranium was placed below and very near the gold leaves of one of Hurmuzescu’s electroscopes. For an initial charge corresponding to a 20± separation of the gold leaves, their speed of approach expressed in seconds of angle in a second of time was on the average 486. Next, a disk of cardboard whose surface was very nearly equal to that of the uranium disc was covered with flat pieces of the double uranium–potassium sulfate, and this disc was substituted for the uranium disc. Under these conditions, the discharge did not occur regularly; the curve of the separation of the leaves as a function of time is no longer a straight line, and the mean speed of dissipation of charges equal to the former ones varied from 106.2 to 137.1, following the arrangement and the shape of the lamellas. The ratio of the speeds corresponding to uranium and double sulfate then varied between 4. 56 and 3.54. A better arrangement consisted in placing the substances outside the electroscope, above the copper ball of its stem, substituting for the bonnet of the apparatus a metallic cylinder closed a flat plate in which there was a suitable opening. In this way discharged were obtained which were very perceptibly proportional to the time, and the speeds of loss for charges separating the gold leaves by 10± were 78.75 for the uranium and 21.53 for the uranium–potassium double sulfate. The ratio of these two numbers is 3.65. Although I am continuing the study of these new phenomena, I thought it was not without interest to point out the emission produced by the uranium, which, I believe, is the first example of a metal exhibiting a phenomenon of the type of an invisible phosphorescence.

Becquerel like his father, had been devoted to the study of fluorescence. It was only natural he would want to see if such material gave off X –rays. And, this the reason why he had uranium salts, namely the double sulphate of uranium and potassium in his laboratory. He was well aware of the phosphorescent spectrum and that of this particular material. His reasoning was very sound….if the fluorescing salt was emitting x-rays, those rays can be caught on photographic plates. His experiments proved his assumption. Though he was befuddled to see the images on the plates far more crisp and clear even though the salts were not “charged” or energized before the experiment. After some reflection, Becquerel realized it was not the energy of the sun but that the uranium salts were emitting the energy. By May of 1896, Becquerel had demonstrated that using pure uranium produced a radiation that was (4) four times stronger than the crystals from potassium uranyl sulphate. With this revelation, he assumed he had found the first example of phosphorescence of a metal. And as such, early researchers also referred to Becquerel’s rays as “hyperphosphorescence”.

Crookes also being interested in phosphorescence quickly repeated and confirmed Becquerel work. He too was satisfied with the explanation that this new radiation was just one of several when radiant matter or cathode rays strike a surface.

During the period 1895 – 1898, Becquerel rays or hyperphosphorescence were not headline news. This avenue of research went very little farther. It was the wondrous X-rays that everyone was talking about, they captured the imagination of researchers instead. Seeing into and beyond flesh and matter plus the medical significance was overwhelming. It was a miracle. Just imagine, x-ray photographs for the first time in history.

A friend of Crookes, Sylvanus Thompson, who had also been working with X-rays, and so it was said, had independently discovered the phenomenon of these mysterious rays (Becquerel rays) but Becquerel had published ahead of Thompson. Thompson found it necessary to make a distinction between X-rays, Becquerel rays and hyperphosphorescence.

Another researcher working on the ray mystery and photographic plates was William J. Russell, a chemist at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital. His findings discovered that using zinc produced a stronger effect than uranium. And, such things as wood, leaves, paper, natural resins had a far stronger effect on photographic plates than uranium. Russell found a wide variety of organic materials could affect the photographic plates. His conclusion that a chemical must be responsible for fogging the plates. He concluded hydrogen peroxide was responsible. Today the term……Russell Effect is used to denote the images on photographic plates in the absence of light or ionizing radiation.

J. J. Thomson, in 1897, again another working with cathode rays, was the first to suggest that one of the fundamental units of cathode rays were more than 1,000 times smaller than an atom, suggesting a subatomic particle. That particle was later known as the electron. Thomson made his suggestion in April 1897 following his discovery that cathode rays could travel much further through air than expected for an atom-sized particle. He estimated the mass of cathode rays by measuring the heat generated when the rays hit a thermal junction and comparing this with the magnetic deflection of the rays. His experiments suggested not only that cathode rays were over 1,000 times lighter than the hydrogen atom, but also that their mass was the same in whichever type of atom they came from. He concluded that the rays were composed of very light, negatively charged particles which were a universal building block of atoms. He called these particles "corpuscles". In 1891, George Johnstone Stoney suggested the name “electron” prior to Thomson's actual discovery. This is the name used today.

In April 1897, Thomson had only early indications that the cathode rays could be deflected electrically A month after Thomson's announcement of the corpuscle, he found that he could in fact deflect the rays by an electric field if he evacuated the discharge tube to a very low pressure. By comparing the deflection of a beam of cathode rays by electric and magnetic fields he obtained more accurate measurements of the mass to charge ratio that confirmed his previous estimates. This became the classic means of measuring the charge and mass of the electron.

Maria Salomea Skłodowska (1867 – 1934), born in Warsaw, in the Russian partition of Poland. There were three partitions of Poland dividing the Polish - Lithuanian Commonwealth. The land divisions were conducted by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria, which divided up the Commonwealth lands among themselves in the process of territorial seizures. Between 1772 and 1795 the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania no longer existed. Independent research will be needed here to fill in the blanks as this is an entire research project by itself, but remember, in 1776 the American colonies declared their independence from England also.

Sklodowska completed her master's degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year. Around this time, one of Marie’s professors arranged a commission to do experimental research on different types of steel to determine their magnetic and chemical properties. In need of a lab to work in, she contacted a friend who had a friend that may be able to help her. She was introduced to French physicist Pierre Curie. Curie himself a researcher and inventor of several instruments for measuring magnetic fields and electricity, was able to secure a place for Marie at the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry where he worked. A relationship slowly developed and later the two married in 1895.

Marie being quite aware of the discoveries all around her. She was intrigued by the reports of Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays and Henri Becquerel’s mystery “rays” emitted from uranium ores. Marie decided to make a systematic investigation of the mysterious "uranium rays". She used an electrometer for the measurement of weak electrical currents, constructed by Pierre and his brother, based on the piezoelectric effect. She attempted to measure the faint electrical currents she detected in air that had been bombarded with uranium rays using Pierre’s instruments. In just a few days of testing, Marie discovered that thorium gave off the same rays as uranium. She discovered the various chemical compounds tested gave a surprising result. She hypothesized that the strength of the radiation did not depend on the compound that was being studied. It depended only on the amount of uranium or thorium. Chemical compounds of the same element generally have very different chemical and physical properties: uranium compound is a dark powder, another is a transparent yellow crystal, but what was decisive for the radiation they gave off was only the amount of uranium they contained. Marie drew the conclusion that the ability to radiate did not depend on the arrangement of the atoms in a molecule, but must be linked to the interior of the atom itself. Her studies showed that the effects of the rays were constant even when the uranium ore was treated in different ways. She confirmed Becquerel’s observation that greater amounts of uranium in an ore resulted in more intense rays. And, out of her experimentation she developed a revolutionary new hypothesis. Marie believed that these rays was an atomic property of uranium. This meant that the accepted view of the atom as the smallest possible fragment of matter may be incorrect.

In 1898, she used the term “radioactive” in her notes to describe materials that had this effect. This was the first time this word was ever used. She in fact invented a new word. Continuing systematic studies, she now went through the entire known periodic system. Her findings were that only uranium and thorium gave off this radiation.

Marie's next idea, was to study the natural ores that contain uranium and thorium. She obtained samples from geological museums and found that of these ores, pitchblende was four to five times more active than that of uranium. It was her hypothesis that a new unknown element and considerably more active than uranium, was present in small amounts in the ore.

Pierre, being fascinated with Marie’s work, gave up his research and joined Marie in her project. Working together they found that the strong activity came with the fractions containing bismuth or barium. (In elemental analysis, mass fraction can refer to the ratio of the mass of one element to the total mass of a compound). When Marie continued her analysis of the bismuth fractions, (she was removing more of the total amount) she found that every time she managed to take away an amount of bismuth, the residue that was left had greater activity. The end of June 1898, they had a substance that was about 300 times more strongly radioactive than uranium.

On July 1898, they published and stated:

"We thus believe that the substance that we have extracted from pitchblende contains a metal never known before, akin to bismuth in its analytic properties. If the existence of this new metal is confirmed, we suggest that it should be called “polonium” after the name of the country of origin of one of us." The unnamed country was Poland. It was also in this work that the term radioactivity was used for the first time in public. After an additional few months of work, December 26, 1898, the Curies informed the Academy of Sciences on, that they had demonstrated strong grounds for having come upon an additional very active substance. They suggested the name of “radium” for the new element. Remember, what they had was meniscal amounts of material, too small to do anything with.

But now came the process of proving their ideas. In order to prove new elements had been actually discovered, the Curies would have to produce enough material to determine their atomic weight and preferably isolate them. To do this the Curies would need tons of costly pitchblende. Remember the mines at Joachimsthal in Bohemia? Vast heaps, waste piles of pitchblende had been left in the surrounding forests. Marie considered that radium ought to be left in the residue. A sample was sent to them from Bohemia and the material was found to be even more active than the original mineral. Several tons of pitchblende was later put at their disposal through the offices of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

What was about to take place is the stuff legends are made of: personal sacrifice, drive, endurance and the willingness to succeed regardless of the cost in the face of any adversity. Radioactivity was born, for better or for worse, a new age was dawning. Certainly you can not stop here, conduct just a little independent research to finish this story.


Radioactive Reality I: What Lay Beyond

We are now in the waning years of the nineteenth century entering uncharted territory…the twentieth century. What will it bring? Our timeline is now 1895 to 1905. The following events are taking place.

U.S. Battleship Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor, Boer War, Jello first introduced, Gold in the Klondike, Spain declares war on US rejecting ultimatum to withdraw from Cuba, Guglielmo Marconi patents the radio, German pharmaceutical company Friedrich Bayer registers Aspirin, Queen Wilhelmina marries Prince Heinrich von Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Denmark is first country to adopt fingerprinting to identify criminals, Due to drought the US side of Niagara Falls runs short of water, Wright brothers obtain airplane patent, The Ford Motor Company sells its first car, Wright Brothers make first flight at Kittyhawk, Japan and Russia declare war after Japan's surprise attack on Russian fleet at Port Arthur disabling 7 Russian warships, French government of Emile Combes falls, Simplon tunnel in Switzerland is completed, Russian sailors mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin, French National Assembly votes for separation of church and state

On November 8, 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovered a new kind of ray, something which was previously unknown. It took Rontgen only six weeks to finish his research on this phenomenon. On December 28, he submitted his manuscript to the secretary of the Wurzburg Physical Medical Society. This was an extremely important step as a medical society would include mainly doctors. Doctors who could and would use the new rays for medical purposes. On December 31, he sent copies of his papers along with nine x-rays to his colleagues. One copy to his friend, Professor Franz Exner (1849–1926), director of the Second Physicochemical Institute of the University of Vienna. On January 4, 1986, Exner showed Rontgen’s x-rays to a group including Ernst Lechner, professor of physics at the German University in Prague, who informed his father, the editor of Vienna’s daily newspaper Die Presse. That same night the first news article on x-rays was written and then published in Die Presse on January 5, under the headline ‘A Sensational Discovery’. In addition to the scientific facts, the possible development of these new rays was described. And so X ray use as a medical instrument was about to make history

In 1898, the Curies published their finding. In those published papers, they openly documented how the radium and polonium were processed and what techniques they used to do this. Though living like beggars, they did not seek any type of patent or royalty rights. Obviously they had no sense of business opportunities. If only to pay for their experiments. But they felt science was worth more than money. A very noble gesture but quite foolish on their part. Other scientists reading the Curies published works like a blueprint or a recipe began to isolate small amounts of radium and polonium themselves. Doing it for experimentation and monetary gain. Later small companies, solely for the purpose of monetary gain, began purchasing the mine tailings from the Joachimsthal mines and started producing their own radioactive material. The nobility of “science first” went right out the window. Business and companies do not operate on noble ideals, they operate to make a profit. At first, what were originally “bad luck rocks”, waste products of silver mining, which had no value what-so-ever were becoming a monetary windfall. The Bohemians could not believe that people would buy these piles and heaps of junk. The piles were dug up, crated and shipped out as the cash flow rolled in. But by late 1903, the Austrian government realizing it was losing piles of money, nationalized the mines and stopped exporting raw ore. And, this is typical of any governing body, taxation, taxation, taxation or nationalization. There was nothing noble here it was all about money. With the formation of an Austrian monopoly other countries wanting to have access to radium led to a frantic worldwide search for uranium ores. Being a monopoly, the government could charge any price they deemed suitable. The Curies actually created a new industry, that of radium production, besides the medical benefits which would eventually come about. As medical science developed new uses for radium in therapies and devises, the need for more and more radium became necessary. But it didn’t stop there.

Marie spent four years isolating one tenth of a gram of radium chloride from ten tons of pitchblende. In the process she discovered that radium glowed in the dark, pouring out heat and light, seemingly forever. At night, sometimes the two (Curies) would walk the five blocks back to the lab, seeing in the darkness the eerie blue-green glow of the test tubes containing radium. Marie later would say “Slightly luminous silhouettes, stirred us with new emotion and enchantment, like faint fairy light”. In their bedroom they kept a vial of radium salts for light and would wonder at its glow. The two lived for radium. They worked in and around it, lived in it, inhaled it and yes, they poisoned themselves by it. To this day, Maria’s notes are still radioactive and kept in a lead box.

The following (2) web address are quite interesting…Both show a short 10 minute film dated from 1937 concerning radioactivity. Must see ! Stop here just for a few minutes and view the film.

By 1906, radium had already become prized for its use in cancer therapy, at one point its price reached 750,000 gold francs per gram. In U.S currency that equals $10,000,000 ($10 million). It is estimated that 754 grams were produced worldwide between 1898 and 1928. The Uranium itself was merely treated as a waste product and disposed of. By comparison, the Hope Diamond was sold in 1909 for $80,060 U.S. or the equivalent of $8,779 U.S. per gram of radium.

We should stop here for just a minute and think about what’s happened. X-rays, for all practical sense have no real name. The designation “x” is an unknown. So we are dealing with unknown rays of unknown qualities. Rays that have never been clinically tested or approved for human usage by anyone or any group. But his wife volunteered to be tested on. Did she really volunteer? All they knew back then was that these rays could become a medical breakthrough. Imagine being able to see the bones of the human body while still in a living human body. No one living today could possibly imagine what this was like. It was something only the ‘gods” had the power to do. The incantations of this discovery were unbelievable. Bones in the flesh, broken bones, bullets inside a living body, this was a magical tool. And, it was about to take over the entire globe without being properly tested. There were no established guidelines, no established exposure times on and on. Back then, radiation, radioactivity, these discoveries were thought of as being quite safe. People everywhere wanted to have their hands x-rayed. It is simply unbelievable, peoples lack of concern. As if it were a new toy or new amusement park ride. Everyone wanted a ticket.

The same was true with polonium and radium, people simply had the notion it was safe to use. No, wait…safety never can to mind. It was never thought of as being unsafe….. would be a far better way to express it. Radioactivity was a new word, no one really knew what it meant. They probably even liked he word. It’s the same today………think of a recent newly created product, cellphone, dvd, lunar lander, smokeless tobacco, air bag, driverless vehicle. We don’t see the harm a product can cause. We first see the benefits a product can give. In 2015 there were 35, 000 fatalities due to automobiles in the U.S. We certainly are not going to give up driving. What is it about the human animal that we over look mutilation or death in favor of betterment? It’s simply our attitude that something bad will not “happen to me”.

So at the turn of the century radiation and radioactivity was the fade, the new stuff in a new era. What could be more wondrous than a “glow in the dark” material? I like it……………….that alone would make me want to get some. The radium craze had begun. Between unknown rays and a glowing liquid, medical science was about to go from one small step to one giant leap. The period was filled with invention and wonderment.

Today, we are all aware of the many uses of radiation in the medical field. Medicine grew by leaps and bounds and we all benefit by it. This article will not go into dealing with those medical uses in today’s society.

Germany, during this period was quite industrialized and already had large chemical companies that could be redesigned to separate radium on a large scale. These German companies were the first to offer radium for sale. The Curies, themselves, worked with various companies in Paris to achieve an industrial scale production of radium.

During 1892 to 1901, The Eugene de Haen Chemical Company was producing tons of uranium to be used as the coloring agent for the glass industry from the Bohemian pitchblende. After reading Curie’s publications the company began seperating radium working about 40 pounds of pitchblende at a time, far more than the Curies. Also, it was here a discovery was made. The radium could produce self-luminosity. This company was the first to offer radium for sale.

The Buchler Company was manufacturing quinine when its chief chemist Friedrich Oskar Giesel started a side venture in the production of radium. It was him who supplied Rutherford, Soddy and Ramsey their samples of radium. After the publication of polonium in July of 1898, Johann Elster and Hans Geitel began work with pitchblende residue (pitchblende without the uranium) through their experiments they discovered Pb-214 the decay product of Po-218. This they reported to Giesel.

Giesel was the developer of luminous paint using crystalline zinc sulfide, also know as “Sidot’s Blend”. Using the industrial facilities of the company, he developed a different radium separation procedure than the Curies and was able to reduce production time from 90 days to just 30 days. Giesel through his process could produce 4 grains of radium per ton of Joachimstal pitchblende to Curies 32.5 mg per 2 ton of pitchblende. Sometime in the middle of 1899, Giesel acquired 2200 pounds of pitchblende residues from Eugene de Haen. By 1901, Giesel was selling radium and became a recognized radium supplier. Giesel provided radium to Ruttherford, Soddy, Ramsey, Hahn, Bolton, Braggs, Meyer in Vienna, Mendeleev in Russia. The Buchler Company was purchasing ore from Bohemia until the 1904 embargo.

The Curies wanted to go beyond their small radium production facility. In 1899 they asked The Society Centrale De Prodcts Chimiques (SCPC) if the company could separate about 2200 pounds of pitchblende residues and in turn profit from a portion from the sales. Later it was reported the Curies were buying radium from Giesel in 1902. Under the direction of Andre Debiene of the SCPC, the Curies had their lab techniques scaled for industrial production. With the coming of the 1904 embargo, Austria now had a monopoly on radium production.

The embargo began just as the first reports on radium therapy began appearing. Medical literature praised the health effects of new wonder treatment. Radium production facilities now had to look elsewhere for uranium ore. This caused manufacturers to search the globe. Soon ores were being imported from Colorado and Utah in the U.S.A., Portugal, Cornwall, French Madagascar. The Curies however, were able to renegotiate their original deals and would continue to purchase Joachimstal pitchblende. They also negotiated deals with other countries.

The Armet de Lisle Radium Company was formed in Paris in 1904 and the Curies and their associates began working with Emile Armet de Liste. He had inherited a quinine factory and soon expanded into the radium business with the Curies this factory used pitchblende from Hungary, Sweden, Canada and Colorado. They obtained “autunite” from Portugal and France, “chalcolite” from Bohemia, “carnotite” from Utah and Portugal, “thoriante” from Ceylon, “betafite” from Madagascar and “tobernite” from Indo-China.

Carl Auer von Welsbach, a chemist who studied rare earth elements in the 1880s worked on developing a better gas light mantle. A gas light mantle was a fabric device that when placed over a gas flame would increase the luminosity of the flame. His first attempt in 1885 produced the “Actinophor” but was a failure. In 1890 he changed and perfected the materials in the mantle using thorium dioxide and cerium dioxide. His new mantle was far superior to anything yet developed. The United States Bureau of Mines, in 1915, estimated consumption per year at 300 million units sold world wide and 80 million units sold per year in the U.S.A. It was radioactive.

In 1902 Auer invented a cigarette lighter which incorporated a ferro-cerium alloy as the flint. And in 1907 he used the monazite residue from his gas mantles to furnish the rare earth element cerium. Monazite is radioactive. Cerium 142 is radioactive.

That’s not all…….Back then smoking cigarettes were known to discolor ones teeth. In the 1920’s, Auer added thorium oxide to toothpaste to brighten them. Sold under the name “Doramad Radioactive Toothpaste”.

The Joachimsthal Radium Factory known as the Imperial and Royal Uranium Yellow Factory or the Uranium Dye Factory. Karl Ulrich, physicist, from the Auer Company became the director of the new radium factory. The factory was built next to the dye factory where residues were being generated. By 1907 they started to process pitchblende residues. Their production was the highest in the first 4 years, producing 3.236 g of radium from 10 ton of residue. In 1924 the dye business closed and the radium factory took over. Later, Nazi Germany took control of the facility and the mines. A German consortium led by Auer increased production to 3.5g per year.

The Svornost Mine in Joachimsthal dated back to 1530 when it was mined for silver. Uranium, cobalt, nickel, bismuth and pitchblende were mined in the deepest parts of the mine, 1000 foot down. In 1864 ground water seeping into the mine flooded it. In 1905, Heinrich Mache and Stefan Meyer after hearing reports of radium spas investigated the mine. What they found was radon gas. A local entrepreneur began to collect the mine water in wooden buckets and offer healing baths. He also offered bathing in a barrel in which uranium ore residues were wrapped in cloth bags. An official Spa/Bath House was opened in 1906. Horses used to haul the water out of the mine until 1908 when a pipeline was installed to “bath cabins”. In 1910 373 patients were treated at this facility. Wonder what their ailments were? In 1912 the Radium Palace / Spa Hotel was opened with 2476 patients being treated with radioactive water. The Radium Palace is still operating today.

The United States became the leading producer in 1910 with the carnotite sands in Colorado. Rich deposits were found in the Congo. In Canada, the Great Bear Lake and the Great Slave Lake areas. These areas are not mined for radium but for uranium.

The first commercial production of radium in the US was accomplished at James and Joseph Flannery's Standard Chemical Co. in 1913. In the following decade, it produced over one half of the world' supply of radium. In 1921 it produced 1 gram of radium to be presented to Marie Curie, who discovered radium, during her visit to this pioneering laboratory.

Let’s back up a little, In June of 1903, after thousands of crystallizations, Marie finally (from several tons of the original material) isolated one decigram of almost pure radium chloride and had determined radium's atomic weight as 225. She presented the findings of this work in her doctoral thesis on June 25, 1903. And, perhaps after what she and her husband had accomplished, she was almost denied one of the most distinguished accomplishments of her career. In December 1903, the Nobel Prize committee was set to award the Nobel Prize for Physics to Antoine Henri Becquerel and Pierre Curie for their work on radioactivity. But Marie’s name was never mentioned. They didn’t plan on recognizing her for her groundbreaking work. A committee member named Magnus Goesta Mittag-Leffler, and advocate for women in science, told Pierre about what the committee intended to do. Pierre was enraged and filed a driving complaint. Soon after, Marie’s name was officially added to the nomination. The trio of scientists won, making Marie the first woman in history to win a Nobel Prize.

In 1903, Marie and Pierre Curie were awarded half the Nobel Prize in Physics. The citation was, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." Henri Becquerel was awarded the other half for his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity. In a letter to the Swedish Academy of Sciences, Pierre explains that neither of them would be able to come to Stockholm to receive the prize. They could not get away because of their teaching obligations. He adds, "Mme Curie has been ill this summer and is not yet completely recovered." That was certainly true but his own health was no better. Not until June 1905 did they go to Stockholm, where Pierre gave a Nobel lecture.

Early Radio Radiation Therapy: Possibly the first application of radiotherapy was by A. Voigt in Germany. He irradiated a patient having throat cancer in 1896 and reported to the Hamburg Medical Society. Emil Grubbe stated he used x-rays for therapeutic purposes in 1896. Hearing the news of x-ray, Grubbe irradiated his hand and burned it. At a Hahnermann facility meeting he mentioned his experience and a Doctor J. E. Gilman suggested that if x-rays burn normal tissue they may burn cancer tissue. Other doctors agreed. They even sent their patients to Grubbe for cancer treatment. Mrs. Rose Lee had two earlier operations for breast cancer. Grubbe treated her with 18 courses of X-rays but she died a month later. Hermann Gocht at the hospital in Hamburg – Eppendorf tested x-ray treatment on two women patients in 1896, both with breast cancers. They both died.
Though the Curies were unwilling to admit ill effects due to radium

Their friend Becquerel discovered the effects expectantly. Becquerel being given a vial of radium in the smallest amount, carried this vial in his waistcoat pocket for days. He later discovered what appeared to be a burn on his skin where the vial would have rested. He told Pierre about this and later Pierre repeated the action by taping radium salts to his arm for 10 hours. A blistering sore developed. Healing very slowly it left a permanent gray scar. Thor Stenbeck and Tage Sjogren were the first to cure two cases of skin cancer in 1900. In 1901 Henri Alexandre Danlos irradiated a patient having lupus.

The early days using radiation treatments are what led to doctors having what is now called a “practice”. That may not be true but practice is exactly what was being done. This was a completely new science. There were no known ways to use either of the irradiating methods. Trial and error was pretty much the way it was done. Patients were guinee pigs, hoping to be relieved of their affliction. There were no known dosages, no known application methods, no known contact times. It was not science but science fiction. By today’s standards it was barbaric, certainly unprofessional and completely illegal. Human sacrifices were needed and the lambs lined up in a row because of a single thing…….hope.

The History on Oncology, By D. J. Th. Wagener

The idea of using radium in medicine relates to the skin burns observed by two German scientists, Friedrich Walkoff and Friedrich Giesel, and to the incident with Henry Becquerel. The first self-exposure experiments were by Friedrich Walkoff and Friedrich Giesel. (Giesel worked for the Buchler company in Brunswick, Buchler being the first producer of radium sources in Germany.) In October 1900, Giesel described the strapping of 270 mg of radium salt to his inner forearm for a duration of two hours. He also wrote about it to Pierre Curie. The Walkoff incidence of 1900 consisted of just three lines in a three-page general review dealing with photographic questions and presented to a photographic club in Munich. The review was published in the October 1900 issue of Photographische Rundschau: Zeitschrift für Freunde der Photographie. The title, translated into English, is “Invisible, photographically effective rays. Walkoff wrote: Furthermore, radium owns astonishing physiologic properties. An exposure of the arm to two 20-minute sessions has produced an inflammation of the skin which has now lasted already for two weeks, and exhibits the same aspect as that obtained after a long exposure to X-rays. Trials still not completed, made in the Munich Hygiene Institute, seem to show an effect on micro-organisms.

An interesting observation relating to Friedrich Giesel was later published in 1905 and clearly shows the hazards of commercially preparing the early radium sources: “Giesel’s breath was so radioactive that it would still discharge an electroscope 18 hours after he left his laboratory, and Giesel’s body was the most radioactive that had yet been measured.”

Becquerel who carried a tube with a small amount of radium in the pocket of his waistcoat for several days developed a skin burn. Pierre Curie amazed with the radium effect decided to confirm it and applied a small source of radium against his arm for 10 hours, also obtained a burn as well. That gave him the idea that radium could be used in medical work. Meanwhile, Becquerel’s burn was serious and he went to see a dermatologist at the Hospital St Louis, Paris. Dr. Ernest Besnier, noted that the Becquerel’s radium burn was similar to X-ray burns and immediately thought that radium could be used in medical therapy such as the X-rays.

Marie Curie, in her biography of Pierre Curie, describes Becquerel’s reaction to the experience of receiving a radium burn:
In order to test the results that had just been announced by F. Giesel, Pierre Curie voluntarily exposed his arm to the action of radium during several hours. This resulted in a lesion resembling a burn that developed progressively and required several months to heal. Henri Becquerel had by accident a similar burn as a result of carrying in his vest pocket a glass tube containing radium salt. He came to tell us of this evil effect of radium, exclaiming in a manner at once delighted and annoyed: “I love it, but I owe it a grudge.”

Becquerel and Pierre put out a paper where they stated:

Radium radiations act energetically on the skin: the effect produced is close to that produced with Röntgen X-rays. First observations of this action are due to Walkoff and Giesel in 1900. Mr. Giesel applied to his arm for two hours, radiferous radium bromide placed in a celluloid sheet. Radiations acting through the celluloid provoked a light red colour of the skin. Two or three weeks later, the red colour increased, and an inflammation of the tissues appeared, and the skin sloughed off.
Mr. Curie reproduced on himself the Giesel experiment letting it act for 10 hours on his arm, through a thin sheet of gutta percha, the radiferous barium chloride [“Radiferous barium” is not a misprint for “radiferous radium”; the discovery of radium was associated with the barium extract from pitchblende—hence the term radiferous barium. The discovery of polonium was associated with the bismuth extract from pitchblende] of relatively low activity [approximately 5000 times the activity of metallic uranium]. After the action of the radiations, the skin became red over a 6-cm2 surface. The result was similar to that of a skin burn, but the skin was not painful. After some days, the red colour increased without spreading. On the 20th day, scabs were formed and then an open wound needing covering up. On the 42nd day, the epidermis started to recover around the wound, reaching the centre, and 52 days after the action of the radiations, an area of 1 cm2 of a grey colouration remained, indicating a deeper necrosis.

Mr. Becquerel, bringing a small sealed tube of a few decigrams of radiferous barium chloride of a high activity level [800,000 times the activity of uranium] underwent the same experiment. The radiferous product was enclosed in a sealed glass tube, and the cylindrical volume was about 10–15 mm in length and 3 mm in diameter. The tube, enclosed in a sheet of paper was inside a small cardboard box. On April 3 and 4, this small box was placed many times in a pocket of his jacket, the total time being assessed as a 6-hour exposure. On April 13, he discovered that the radiations through the tube, the box, and the clothes produced a red spot on the skin which became darker in the next days: marking in red the oblong size of the tube, with an oval shape of 6×4 cm2. On April 24, the skin sloughed off and then the central part became ulcerated with a discharge. The wound was treated during 1 month with a bandage with oil and calcar. Necrosed tissues sloughed off, and on May 22—that is, 49 days after the irradiation—the wound was repaired, leaving a scar marking the position of the tube.

During the treatment of the burn, a second oblong spot appeared on about May 15 at the place of the opposite corner of the jacket pocket where the radioactive tube was placed. The action was dated either at the same date as the first one, or more likely on April 11, even if it lasted a very short time, no more than one hour. Erythema thus appeared 34 days at least after the initial action. Inflammation progressed with the aspect of a superficial burn. On May 26, the skin began to slough off. With the same care as for the first one, this burn was cured more quickly. During the period of observation, on April 10, 11, and 12, the same radioactive tube was put in another pocket of the jacket, but enclosed in a lead tube of about 5 mm thickness. The tube was kept in the pocket for 40 hours, and no effect was observed.

We can add that Madame Curie, carrying in a small sealed tube only a few centigrams of the same very active substance that gave the above mentioned lesions, presented with similar burns, although this little tube was enclosed in a thin metallic box. For instance, a short action, during less than 30 minutes, produced 15 days later a red spot which was transformed into a blister similar to that due to a superficial burn that takes 15 days to be cured. These facts show that the duration of the lesion’s evolution varies according to the intensity of the radiation and the duration of the excitation action.
After these effects we have described, we experimented on our hands the different actions during researches with these very active products. Hands have a general trend to become scaly, and the extremities of the fingers which held tubes or capsules containing very radioactive products become hard and sometimes very painful. For one of us, the inflammation of the extremities of the fingers lasted about 15 days and finished when the skin dropped off, but the painful sensation did not disappear for two months.”

This paper revealed Marie experimented on herself also.

The above material: CurrOncol. 2007 Apr; 14(2): 74–82.
PMCID: PMC1891197, Pierre Curie, 1859–1906
R. F. Mould, MSc PhD
Copyright and License Information, Copyright 2007 Multimed Inc. states……
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Becquerel also was able to persuade the Curies to give a small amount of radium to a hospital colleague, Dr. Henri Danlos, who successfully used the radioactive material to treat lupus and other dermatological diseases and published his work in 1901.

In Boston, the first use of radium in therapy seems to have occurred by the same time. Francis Williams was aware of the successful use of X-rays in the treatment of lupus and speculated that the radiation emission of the recently discovered radium could be used in treating this disease. In late 1900s, Francis Rollins prepared about 500 mg of radium chloride and placed them in a sealed capsule, and passed it over to his brother-in-law, Dr. William Rollins, for use in therapeutics. In his first 42 cases treated with radiation from the encapsulated radium, William Rollins compared the results with the previous use of X-ray in similar therapy. He wrote: “The comparison at the present time is greatly to the advantage of radium. When radium is employed for healing purposes no cumbersome apparatus is necessary: radium is portable and always ready for use. Further, the dose from radium is uniform; the strength of the output does not vary, so that the dose depends entirely on the length of exposure and the distance of the radium from the part to be treated. Radium may be applied to parts that are not readily accessible to the X-rays, such as the mouth or vagina. Furthermore, the healing action of the radium is more prompt”. He also wrote about the severe burns that radium could cause in health tissues and the need for protection.

Everywhere x-rays and radium were being used (tested) for its medical benefits. There were deaths and there were cures. But in all the unknown, data was being discussed and refined. All of us, the living of today, grew up in a world where radio and radium therapies are considered as safe as possible. We owe much gratitude to all that came before us. For it was through these doctors and patients who paved the way for the lifesaving methods, devices and treatment now available to all of us. It is quite possible everyone reading this has had at least one (1) x-ray during their lives. Lung tissue, mammograms, broken bones, dental x-rays are all common place in our world. Does anyone fear or even think about being exposed to radiation? Probably not. And so it was over 100 years ago, before it was experimental, today it is common place.

In the early days, radioactivity was an exciting concept. It offered miracle cures and people were more than willing to use radioactivity. Simply because they had no idea of its harmful effects. It was a gift of the gods.

What could be bad with something that glowed in the dark? It inspired a worldwide craze and a rush of radium-laced products that offered to cure everything from impotence to hair loss. What few people realized was that most of these products would be totally ineffective and later found to be dangerous. Marie and Pierre Curie were among the first to see evidence of the potential harmful effects of radiation. And yet, would not admit the negative effects of the magical element they had discovered.

During this period radium was being produced as fast as the new factories could pump it out. Fortunes were made over night. The Bohemian government made a fortune or should I say those certain few in government made fortunes. Other countries got into the money making business including the United States. Doctors, medical societies, hospitals …you name any medical related entity and they made money. The pharmaceutical industry put on the market products based on radium: “Tuberadine” to treat bronchitis, “Digeraline” to make digestion easier and “Vigoradine” to help against tiredness.

The word alone "radium" became a powerful selling slogan, a rallying call to sell creams, powders, cosmetics, soaps, toothpaste and shampoos.

In France, the company Tho-Radia sold a beauty cream based on radium. Named Marie Curie, it was even being prescribed by a nonexistent Doctor Alfred Curie. The cream contained 0.25 millionth of a gram of bromide of radium for 100 grams of excipient was made to eliminate wrinkles from the face. In its publicity It was advertised as "Science has created Tho- Radia in order to beautify women. It is for them to benefit from it. Whoever wants can stay ugly! " That was a powerful selling ad. In the laboratory of another mysterious doctor named Monteil, offered beauty products made from radioactive rubber: masks, chin pieces, neck bands, ankle bands and slimming belts. The directions stated the radioactive rubber was to be worn half an hour a day and "made you lose weight fast, without affecting your health".

"Oradium Wool" was recommended for babies due to “extraordinary effects of organic stimulation of cells transmitted by the radium”.

"Radia", radioactive bait "attracts fish and crayfish like the magnet attracts iron", fishing bait advertisement.

"Proviador fattened the poultry", advertisement for people raising chicken, turkey, duck.

Too good to be true? That is what the manufacturers of the high-priced competitor, the "Radiendocrinator", thought. Their literature warned the unwary about such radioactive pads and claimed that charging in the sun was "the purest of nonsense. There is not a shred of truth known to modern science that substantiates such a theory."
In comparison, the Radiendocrinator was made of refined radium, encased in 14-carat gold, and shipped in an embossed velvet-lined leatherette case - all for only $150. In general, the Radiendocrinator was meant to be placed over the endocrine glands. Giving one example as to how their Radiendocrinator might be used, the manufacturers advised men to "Wear the adaptor like any athletic strap. This puts the instrument under the scrotum as it should be. Wear at night. Radiate as directed. The Radiendocrinator was available from American Endocrine Laboratories. The ad reads "The Best Radium Finest Seamless Male Pouches" (Male pouch was the term used for condom). It were also radioactive.

For the sufferers of respiratory ailments, there were pads worn over the mouth and/or nose, e.g., the "Radium Nose Cup" and the "Radium Respirator". Their efficacy was beyond dispute; the radium purified the inhaled air by adding radon to it! To quote the manufacturer of the radium respirator (Radium Health Products), "Radium: scientists found it, governments approved it, physicians recommended it, users endorse it, we guarantee it, SURELY IT"S GOOD."

Needless to say, a few individuals took advantage of the public’s faith in the healing powers of radium. One such individual was J. Bernard King, manufacturer of the "Ray-Cura". This was a quilted pad that King said would emit radium emanation into the diseased portions of the body to kill the germs. More specifically, he claimed it would cure cancer, epilepsy, tuberculosis, and numerous other diseases. The federal authorities halted its distribution in 1929 because King's claim that the pad contained radium ore, was false when in fact it was filled with ordinary soil.

Water from natural hot springs was bottled and sold as a health tonic. In 1903, the discoverer of the electron, J. J. Thomson, wrote a letter to the journal Nature in which he detailed his discovery of the presence of radioactivity in well water. Others found that the waters in many of the world's most famous health springs were also radioactive. This radioactivity is due to the presence of radium produced by the radium that is present in the ground. In 1904, Nature published a study on the natural radioactivity of different mineral waters. Physicians using preparations of radium salt in bath water suggested this as a way for patients to be treated at home, as the radioactivity in the bathwater was therapeutic. Radium baths became used experimentally to treat arthritis, gout, and neuralgias.

Radium bath salts for home use….

Bathe at the spas of Hot Springs, Arkansas. It is true, the "radioactive water" signs have disappeared but enough visitors still go there to warrant the opening of additional facilities. And, at Saratoga Springs in New York, radioactive water signs can still be found.

Hot springs in Arkansas:

Saratoga Springs:

Another option is to visit the uranium health mines in Boulder, Montana, where the air is radioactive. In fact, the largest of the six operating mines calls itself "The Free Enterprise Radon Health Mine." They advertise with the phrase "the unmedical approach to arthritis." Supposedly such wording avoids classification as a medical claim and the legal constraints that would go along with it.

The Radium Palace:

Radium Palace and history of……(3 websites - must read)

10 Places Around the World Where You Can Take a Radium Bath

Users of bottled water claimed that the bottled stuff lost most of its healing properties after just a few days. This too, appeared to be explained by the radon, which has a radioactive half-life of just 3.8 days. That means that half of the radon will decay into other substances in that time. At that rate, less than 1 percent of the radon would remain in the water after just one month.

If the radioactivity in spring water was what made it so beneficial, water that had gone "flat" could be recharged by irradiating it. There were numerous products on the market in the 1920s that enabled you to do just that. You could buy a "Zimmer Radium Emanator", that when dunked in a bucket of water, irradiated it. Or you could store your water in a "Revigator" water crock, made from radioactive ore.

But, you might say radioactive water was a rip-off, which is exactly the pitch the Radium Ore Revigator Company used. This company sold a "better, more scientific" product. A watercooler lined with a serious amount of carnotite, which is an ore of uranium and radium that undergoes radioactive decay, giving off radon gas. Storing any water in this cooler overnight would give you fresh, potent, invigorating radon water to drink by morning. Revigators actually worked.

While almost everyone recognized the benefits of radon in water, many felt that the ingestion or application of radium (the parent of radon) would be even more effective. And so, in the 1920s and early 1930s, it was possible to purchase radium-containing products.

Radium-containing pads that were applied to the body were especially popular. One brand, "Degnens Radioactive Solar Pad", was said to get its energy from the sun and had to be charged in sunlight for several minutes prior to use. Its $19.50 (U.S.) price tag was reasonable and it came with a money-back guarantee.

Companies sold radioactive hair tonic, face cream, toothpaste (for a glowing smile), blankets, soap, candy, chocolate bars, earplugs, hearing aids, laxatives, contraceptives, and countless other products that were credited with curing everything from pimples to high blood pressure to arthritis, gout, constipation, and chronic diarrhea.

The Bailey Radium Laboratories of East Orange, New Jersey, offered $1,000 to anyone who could prove that its "Certified Radioactive Water," sold under the brand name Radithor, did not contain the large amount of radium and thorium it claimed to. Radithor was the real thing: No one ever claimed the prize. William J. A. Bailey was a Harvard University dropout who falsely claimed to be a doctor of medicine with a medical degree from the University of Vienna. In 1915 he had served time in jail for mail fraud. A few years later, he was selling, strychnine, the active ingredient in rat poison, as an aphrodisiac under the brand name "Las-I-Go" For Superb Manhood, he began selling Radithor as "Pure Sunshine in a Bottle." He claimed it would cure more than 150 different ailments

Bailey invented and sold Radithor, making a fortune in the process. He created Radithor by dissolving radium in water to high concentrations, claiming it could cure many ailments by stimulating the endocrine system. His claim to fortune was to offer physicians a 17% rebate on the prescription of each dose of Radithor.

In 1927 a wealthy, Eben Byers was returning from the annual Harvard-Yale football game aboard a specially chartered train. Yale won the game 14-0, and Byers was a Yale alumnus. It's not clear how it happened but Byers fell out of the upper sleeping berth and injured his arm. He visited one doctor after another, but no one could ease his pain. Then a physician in Pittsburgh, PA. suggested he try Radithor, a patent medicine.

In the 1920s, again, when much less was known about radiation, it made perfect sense to drink radioactive water. Since the beginning of time, people have wondered what gave natural hot springs healing properties. But it wasn't just people like Bailey who thought radiation was good for you. In an article in The American Journal of Clinical Medicine, Dr. C. G. Davis claimed that "radioactivity prevents insanity, rouses noble emotions, retards old age, and creates a splendid youthful joyous life." Other experts credited radiation with stimulating the body to throw off waste products.

So, Eben Byers took his doctor's advice and began drinking Radithor. A lot of it. He found the water so "invigorating" that he continued drinking it long after his arm stopped hurting. Byers was convinced the Radithor had cured him. In addition to downing as many as three bottles of Radithor a day for nearly three years, he sent cases of the stuff to associates and lady friends and urged them to drink it also. He even instructed his stable boys to feed Radithor to his horses. Byers was still drinking Radithor into the early 1930s. By now, he began losing weight and suffering aches and pains all over his body. These symptoms were soon led to headaches and a terrible pain in the jaw. His doctors had diagnosed his condition as "inflamed sinuses". He had several broken bones but it wasn't until his teeth started falling out that he realized he was suffering from something much more serious.

After a series of X-rays were taken, his doctors were startled. What they showed was his jaw bone deteriorating. Radithor was made with radium. Radium's half-life is 1600 years unlike radon’s 3.8 days. Even worse, because radium is chemically similar to calcium, instead of passing through the body in a day or two, it accumulates in the bones, where the radiation destroys the surrounding bone marrow, blood cells, and other tissue. This is why Byers' bones were breaking and his teeth were falling out, they had been destroyed by radiation and were now disintegrating. By the time he began to experience the first signs of radium poisoning, he had already consumed more than three times the lethal dose. Byers was able to give testimony and Radithor was pulled from the market in December 1931. Bit it was to late to do anything for Byers. He died three months later, at age 51.

If there were any doubts that the radium killed him, they were resolved at the autopsy. Several of his teeth and a portion of his jawbone were set on a plate of unexposed photographic film. The radiation in the bones exposed the film just as if it had been used in an X-ray machine. To prevent the radiation in Byers' body from leaking out, he was buried in a coffin lined with lead. Byers may have had consumed as many as 1,500 bottles of Radithor in a three year period. Each bottle contained around one microcurie of radium-226 and 228. Byers’ brain was also abscessed, and holes were forming in his skull. His death was recorded as being due to cancers because the terminology of the time, and not name radiation poisoning. He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, in a lead-lined coffin. Interesting enough, I live in Allegheny County 20 miles north of Pittsburgh.

No one knows how many people died from drinking Radithor. At least one female friend of Byers’ died from radium poisoning after he introduced her to the product. In all, dozens, or possibly hundreds of people may have been killed. Considering that William Bailey is estimated to have sold more than 400,000 bottles of Radithor over the years. Back then, its price was quite restrictive. Radithor sold for $1.25 a bottle (around $15 in today's money). Few people would have been able to afford to buy let alone use as much as Byers had. Because of Byers' prominence, his death received much publicity. The Wall Street Journal in its headline stated "The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off".

Few people realize cigarette smoke and smoking expose users to cancer causing radiation. Yes, there are radioactive isotopes in cigarettes. These isotopes were identified in smoke as early as 1953, D. K. Mulvany, presented the evidence in a letter to the British journal, Lancet. He stated radioactive potassium 40 was detected in cigarette smoke. A spokesperson from Imperial Tobacco of Canada stated whatever made it into the lungs was quickly exhausted. Cough, cough.

The 1960s saw the production of the "Gra-Maze Uranium Comforter" made in La Salle, Illinois. It was a quilted pad containing uranium ore and was meant to be placed on whatever part of the body was ailing. Unlike Bernard King's Ray-Cura, on which it was based, this device made no false claims. It really did contain uranium! A very tiny drop. Production ceased in 1965. About the same time, the Ionic Research Foundation in Winter Park, Florida came into being. The main product of this company was the "Ionic Charger", a device intended to add radon to drinking water. As the manufacturer pointed out to customers, people have "been brainwashed by bureaucratic screaming about fallout and the truth of the famous spas has been lost sight of." Their literature claimed the product would have a "sedative effect on the nervous system" and that "highly strung individuals could become less irritable and lose their distressing tendency towards insomnia." Oddly enough, one of these devices was discovered in the early 1970s in the basement of the Department of Energy (then the Atomic Energy Commission) building in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. No one knows for sure if it was actually used there and if any cures have gone unreported.

Another item from the 1960s was the "Lifestone Cigarette Holder". It was 4 in. long, made of gray mottled ceramic, and contained a small quantity of radium. Inhaling the smoke over the radium was said to diminish nicotine, make the tobacco sweeter and milder, and "protect users from lung cancer, promised them beautiful faces, and excellent health."

In 1985, an importer in Kansas managed to distribute 20,000 "Endless Refrigerator/Freezer Deodorizers" in the U.S. for $10 each. This deodorizer was made of green plastic into which has been mixed thorium-containing monazite sand (thorium's 10 billion-year half-life is reasonably close to endless). Users are instructed to hang it in the refrigerator where the emitted radiation is said to purify the air by destroying odors.

Another device from Japan is the "NAC Plate". Its outward appearance is similar to that of a playing card, but with one big difference: it contains low-grade uranium ore on one side. The plate is slipped into a package of cigarettes where the radiation "denatures and reduces nicotine, tar, and harmful gas" and that with the NAC plate "you enjoy . . . the golden moments of watching the smoke rise slowly" and "with your nerves relieved and refreshed you can get back to work."

Here is a great web site… the Radium Historical Items Catalog prepared U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by M. A. Buchholz and M. Cervera, 2008…………..must see !

Henri Becquerel recognized radium would cause various materials to fluoresce. One of those materials was zinc sulfide. The invention of radioluminescent paint is attributed to William J Hammer, who in 1902, mixed radium with zinc sulfide and applied the paint to various items. Mr. Hammer, like the Curies did not get a patent for his invention. But a gemologist at Tiffany & Company did get the idea patented. His name was George Kunz. Kunz and Charles Baskerville, a chemist, made their paint by mixing radium-barium carbonate with zinc sulfide and linseed oil. In Europe, especially Switzerland, radioluminescent painters were easy to recognize. You could spot them everywhere, on the streets, even on the darkest nights because of the glow around them. Their clothes, shoes, hair, hands, face glowed.

In the US, the first company to produce radioluminescent paint was the Radium Luminous Material Corporation in Newark New Jersey. It was founded in 1914 by Sabin von Sochocky and George Willis, both just happened to be physicians. With their business expanding rapidly they also got into the business of mining and producing radium. In 1921, they changed their name to the U.S. Radium Corporation. Their brand name of paint was “Undark”. Standard Chemical Company used the name "Luna" and the Cold Light Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of the Radium Company of Colorado, made "Marvelite."

According to a U.S. Department of Commerce Information Circular from 1930, the paint might contain:
"from 0.7 to 4 milligrams of radium element to 100 grams of zinc sulfide.
Impurities may be added to the zinc sulfide as follows:Cadmium, 0.05 per cent; copper, 0.001 per cent; manganese, 0.0002 per cent."

In the 1920s, "mesothorium" was sometimes added to the paint. Mesothorium is the historical name given to radium-228 (5.8 year half-life). Ra-228 is a beta emitter, but over time it decays into thorium-228 (1.9 year half-life), which is an alpha emitter. The result is that the intensity of the paint actually increases over the first five years or so due to the growth of the Th-228. The practice of adding mesothorium ended by 1930. Any mesothorium that might have been used will no longer be present, it has long decayed away.

The radioctivity in radium painted clocks/watch hands varies tremendously depending on the size of the hands and the dials as well as the amount of radium in the paint.

See the table in "The Use of Radium in Consumer Products," a 1968 publication of the US Public Health Service.

Please click on the following photos to read addition information and actual radiation readings.

Sovoy Radium Travel Alarm Clock 1

Fireball Radium

Comet Radium

Notice the names given to these clocks and the radium painted dials

In one study of 18 pocket watches, the National Center for Radiological Health measured radium contents of 0.6 to 1.39 uCi.

The April 1920 Issue of Scientific American noted that more than 4,000,000 watches and clocks had been produced using paint containing radium.

Big Ben

Little Ben

The following items were also identified as containing radioluminescent paint: house numbers, keyhole locators, ship's compasses, telegraph dials, mine signs, steam gages, pistol sights, poison bottle indicators, bedroom slipper buttons, furniture locator buttons, theater seat numbers, automobile steering-wheel locks, luminous fish bait, and glowing eyes for toy dolls and animals.

National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, Washington, DC, 1977, Report 56 stated that the estimated average dose equivalent to the gonads of an individual wearing a radium painted pocket watch was approximately 3 mrem per year. The estimated dose from a watch containing 4.5 uCi of radium, which would be a very large amount, would be 310 mrem per year….. to the gonads. Glad I don't wear a pocket watch!

Based on the results of one survey conducted in Tennessee, the average whole body exposure due to a radium-containing radioluminescent clocks might be on the order of 7 to 9 mrem per year. Exposure rates to the head would be somewhat higher, possibly 5-10 times higher, because these are usually alarm clocks that would be positioned on a night stand near the head of the bed.

And what about the Radium Dial Painters? During the 1920s, the radium paint was applied to clock and watch dials in several different ways:
1. painting it on with a brush
2. painting it with a pen or stylus
3. applying it with a mechanical press
4. dusting. Dusting involves dusting a freshly painted dial with radioluminescent powder so that the powder would stick to the paint.

In order to get a fine line on many of the letters, numbers and numerals, brushes had to have a very fine tip. The original practice of using the mouth and lips to put a point on a brush was termed "tipping" or pointing the brush in the lips. In some plants the brush was also tipped before painting a numeral. The extra paint was wiped off the brush with the mouth and was usually swallowed. Tipping the brushes was not something the dial painters just happened to do. In some plants they were actually trained how to do it. In fact, the instructors would sometimes swallow the paint to show it was harmless. It has been estimated that a dial painter would ingest a few hundred to a few thousand microcuries of radium per year. While most of the ingested radium would pass through the body, a fraction of it would be absorbed and accumulate in the skeleton. Swallowing the radium paint, later led many of the dial painters to develop medical problems. Dial painters deaths began in the mid-1920’s, but by 1926 tipping the brushes seemed to have ended. From about 1960 on, radium in paint was discontinued.

Dop of Radium paint

*** Please use the key words “radium girls” and read a few of the reports concerning the dial painters. This is a must read.

Many of us, at least 50 years of age or so, have heard of the Big Ben and Little Ben bedside alarm clocks. There have been many variations down through the years. Some with and without radium painted dials. As a youth, I had a radium paintedBig Ben at my bedside from first grade to twelfth grade, as millions of other did. Loved to stare right into the dial and wonder why this thing glowed. My fathers’ wrist watch glowed. During this time most everyone had some timepiece that glowed. When I was much younger, we kids used to “sleep out” in a tent or on someone’s porch, everyone brought their glowing bed clock. It was great to “charge them up” with flashlights, then shut the lights off. The intensity of the glow was astounding. If you held your clock very tight and with quick repeated movements of the hand or arm you could get “light trails” to form. Those were the days.

Most of those bed side alarm clocks were manufactured by Westclox and Ingraham.

It wasn’t just clocks. Dials of all sorts had radium painted hands. The U.S. Army issued a radium painted compass. Military aircraft dials could be seen in the dark. Dials of any kind……worldwide. Anything that needed to be seen in the dark was painted with the glowing effect of radium

Vintage U.S. Army Compass

It wasn’t only radium being used in medical applications, radium was used in “medical quackery”, dials of every size, shape and use, from clocks to aircraft to submarines, radium became common globally. Uranium was used in glassware and in the paint used in ceramics. Pottery colors exploded with brilliance and versatility. Radioactive glazes swept the pottery industry like radium painted dials did. Most notably was in 1936, the Homer Laughlin China Company of West Virginia introduced its newest product. Ceramic glazed dinnerware named Fiestaware. According to the Smithsonian Institution Press, Fiesta's appeal lies in its bright colors, modern design, and affordability. In 2002, The New York Times called Fiesta "the most collected brand of china in the United States."
Fiesta was introduced at the annual Pottery and Glassware in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in January 1936. It was not the first solid color dinnerware in the US. Smaller companies, such as Bauer Pottery in California, had been producing dinnerware, vases, and garden pottery, in solid color glazes for the past 10 years. Fiestaware’s claim to fame was it was the first mass-promoted and mass produced solid-color dinnerware in the United States.
Fiesta represented something radically new to the general public not the usual full, sets of dinnerware, all decorated with the same designs. As china ware normally was. Fiestaware represented an even new approach to buying dinnerware, one piece at a time.

Its brilliant red color (and all the red glazes produced by all U.S. potteries of the era) are known for having a detectable amount of uranium oxide in its glaze, which produced the orange-red color. During WW II, the government took control of uranium for military use, and confiscated the company's stocks. Homer Laughlin discontinued Fiesta red in 1944. The company reintroduced Fiesta red in 1959 using depleted uranium (rather than the original natural uranium), after the Atomic Energy Commission relaxed its restrictions on uranium oxide.

Fiestaware 1

Fiestaware 1a

***Please note, all of the above photos contain valuable additional information click on the photos of the uranium glass items, the clocks, military compass and Fiestaware. Read the captions including the amount of radiation being given off by each.

Has anyone heard of “Nasal Radium Irradiation (NRI)”? It was a treatment being administered in the late 1940s through early 1970s that was thought to prevent such conditions as middle ear problems or enlarged tonsils.Between 1948 and 1954, under a federally-funded grant, Johns Hopkins Hospital administered this treatment to shrink the adenoids of Baltimore City school children in an experiment involving 582 third graders. The intent was to gauge the effect of the radium on long-term hearing loss.

President Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments recently released its final report and recommendations on what federal efforts should be made regarding individuals subjected to Cold War-era radiation experiments.
The Committee informed the President that the excess head and neck cancer mortality risk to these Baltimore children (whose exposure to the radium lasted 12 minutes for three bilateral-through both nostrils-irradiations) is 10 times higher than the risk incurred by military veterans similarly treated with NRI between 1944 and 1946 (whose exposure was typically between six to eight minutes for two to three bilateral treatments).

Also the anounced that about 20,000 nasal radium-treated veterans deserved notification and medical follow-up due to potential health risks. The Department of Defense has conducted approx. 2,300 known human experiments that was deemed worthy of follow-up.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 40,000 Marylanders and 571,000 U.S. citizens have been treated with NRI, at the time it was considered "standard medical practice,".

"Nasal Radium Irradiation involved the insertion through each nostril of thin metal rods tipped with a sealed capsule of Radium-226 (50 milligram source strength). Each radium applicator was positioned at the rear of the nasopharynx near the opening of the eustachian tube to irradiate and shrink adenoids and nearby lymphoid tissue. A typical course of treatment involved three to four `treatments' of about 10 to 12 minutes' duration, usually about two to four weeks apart."
According to Farber, "Brain cancer mortality excess risk among NRI-treated children in any given sized group would exceed total all-site cancer mortality observed in actual study of an identical number of survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." The mean dose in rad-the unit used to measure radiation exposure-of the Japanese victims was 27.2 rad to the whole body. The dose to children exposed to NRI for three 12-minute treatments ranged from 2000 rads to the nasopharynx and declined with distance from the irradiator. The thyroid gland of very young children received up to 100 rads, and the pituitary gland received from 51 to 207 rads.

The excess cancer risk was monitored in a long-term health outcome study conducted by The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that concluded in 1979. The results caused the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to derive a cancer mortality risk factor that "equates to 8.8 excess brain cancer deaths over the lifetime of each 1,000 children" who were treated with NRI.
Farber's organization wants to get in touch with those Baltimore schoolchildren, and with any other Marylanders who were treated with NRI in any other so-called "hearing loss prevention" program conducted here from about 1943 to the 1960s. For a time, NRI treatment centers were located in Hagerstown, Easton, and Salisbury.

The Radium Experiment Assessment Project is seeking to reach out to those who were treated with NRI to alert them about the potential health risks they may have due to the NRI treatment. The project will promote medical surveillance of those treated to help identify medical problems in time for suitable treatment. It also seeks to create public awareness of the potential health risks of NRI based on current scientific knowledge, and backs "right-to-know" initiatives for patients who had the treatment.

Better yet, simply use the key words “nasal radium irradiation”

In 1945, the element americium was discovered during the Manhattan Project in USA. The first sample was produced by bombarding plutonium with neutrons in a nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago. Americium-241, has a half-life of 432 years and was the first americium isotope to be isolated. It is the one used in smoke detectors. Am-241 decays by emitting alpha particles and gamma radiation to become neptunium-237.

Americium dioxide, AmO2, was first offered for sale by the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1962 at a cost of $1500 per gram (US) and has remained pretty much unchanged since. One gram of americium oxide provides enough active material for more than three million household smoke detectors.

Americium-241 emits alpha particles and low energy gamma rays. The alpha particles collide with the oxygen and nitrogen in air in the detector's ionization chamber to produce charged particles (ions). A low-level electric voltage applied across the chamber is used to collect these ions. This causes a steady, but very small electric current to flow between two electrodes. When smoke enters the chamber between the electrodes, the smoke particles attach themselves to the charged ions and neutralize them. This causes the electric current to fall and thus sets off the alarm.

The radiation dose to the occupants of a house from a domestic smoke detector is essentially zero. The alpha particles are absorbed within the detector, while most of the gamma rays escape harmlessly.(there is no such thing a harmless) The small amount of radioactive material that is used in these detectors is not a health hazard and individual units can be disposed of in normal household waste.

Even swallowing the radioactive material from a smoke detector would not lead to significant internal absorption of Am-241. Americium dioxide is insoluble, so will pass through the digestive tract without delivering a significant radiation dose. (Americium-241 is however a potentially dangerous isotope if it is taken into the body in soluble form. It decays by both alpha activity and gamma emissions and it would concentrate in the skeleton. Similar to what happened to Mr. Byers.

Additional info about Americium in smoke detectors from the nuclear regulatory agency:
a. Americium is a silvery metal, which tarnishes slowly in air and is soluble in acid. Its most stable isotope, Am-243, has a half-life of over 7500 years.

b. The activity of Am-241 is 127 GBq/g (3.43 Ci/g).

c. An average smoke detector for domestic use contains about 0.29 micrograms of Am-241 (in the form of americium dioxide), so its activity is around 37,000 Bq (or about 1 µCi).

d. Am-241 emits low energy gamma rays of 60 keV. The Am-241 gamma dose constant of 3.14 mSv/hr at a distance of one metre from a certain amount – 37 GBq – of Am-241. This gives an annual dose at one metre of 27 µSv/yr for an average household smoke detector – around 100 times lower than the dose from natural background radiation.

It is simply amazing how the above claims of safety sound all to familiar. Remember Eben Byers? The very same safety claims were told to him. And what about all the other radioactive products sold to the public that laid similar safety claims? From drinking harmless invigorating radon water to safe radioactive baths to drinking and eating off of radioactive dinnerware. If you believe in your government, if you believe the manufactures, than in your mind it is safe. If we could only ask Mr. Byers or any of the Radium Girls ! ! !

Household Smoke Detector 1

Interior of Smoke Detector

Americium 241 in Smoke Detector

Click on the three smoke alarm photos for additional information>

But, what about the Curies? They did not become rich and famous. Many many others did due to their discoveries. Whatever became of them?

In sections I and II, I gathered as much historical information that I personally felt led to or was directly involved or related to the discovery and/or usage of radioactive material. The information pool for this study is massive, in both written and digital forms. The information is readily available to any and/or all.

In a condensed form, authors pretty much record a historical event equally. It’s when seeking detailed, in depth information becomes involved in the story that the recorded historical event begins to wobble a bit. Information begins to vary from one author to the next and it becomes quite necessary and beneficial to draw reference from numerous sources. A true and accurate collection of a historical event recording comes from written “first person” accounts, directly quoted, personal documents, personal papers, or newspapers of the time. This is why independent research is so important. The article presented here cries out for farther study. Hopefully one reader will go beyond this presentation. What I did here in this article was merely locate the information from several sources and stitch it all together into some kind of intelligible timeline.

Presented here is truly a fascinating story and certainly just the tip of the iceberg. My research included numerous sources, both written and/or digital, of which only a few are listed. I certainly lay no claim to authoring this entire short work. This is an article built brick by brick from many many references.

Thank you

What you don’t know won’t hurt you…Hummmm


***In addition to this presentation***
Purely by coincidence a newspaper report occurred while working on this presentation. I was totally unaware, as well as most of the community, radium was being processes just a few miles from my home. I have included material from several sources here. Interesting enough nuclear fuel was also being made and tested right here in my community years ago at the Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Division and NUMAC facilities have been known for years. It is remarkable all the radioactive material just dumped here basically in my back yard so to speak. If you wish….. the following reports are “good reading”. Here are reports from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, Litigation, Lawyers.

The above reports were a complete surprise to me. Working on the subject of radium and it turns up in the soil only a few miles from me. Coincidence??? While on the subject of radiation and radioactivity, again, within only several miles from where I live radioactive material has been in the news. The following sites I have been aware of.

And finally, maybe a twenty minute drive from me, another nuclear facility that was so “hot” that the clean up effort was stopped. Radioactive material blindly dumped with no regard for safety, the public or the community at large.

Local, state and federal authorities assure us there is no safety concerns for the above sites. Richard Nixon once can fool some of the people some of the time, but all of the people all of the time.

Look for article #28 Radioactivity Reality II: Mining Sites, to follow soon.



Mining and Selling Radium and Uranium, By Roger F. Robison

Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for ...By Robert N. Proctor

The History of Oncology, By D. J. Th. Wagener

The Becquerel Rays and the Properties of Radium, R. J. Strutt, 1906

The Becquerel Rays and Properties of Radium, R. J. Strutt, 2004

A Century of X-Rays and Radioactivity in Medicine: With Emphasis on ...,By R.F Mould, 1993

The Journal of Advanced Therapeutics, Volume 32, By William Benham Snow, 1914

Archives of the Roentgen Ray and Allied Phenomena, Volume XI, June 1906 to May 1907

Radium in Medicine, Samuel G. Tracy, B. S. M. D.

New York Medical Journal, Volume 78, Issues 14-26, 1903, Page 792,

Non-destructive testing of fibre-reinforced plastics composites, 1987, Chapter 9

From Hyperphosphorescence to Nuclear Decay: A History of the Early Years of Radioactivity, 1869 – 1914,
Marjorie Caroline Malley

Archives of the Roentgen Ray and Allied Phenomena, Volume XI, June 1906 to May 1907

History of the Jáchymov (Joachimsthal) Ore District, Frantisek Veselovshy, Pete Ondrus, Jiri Komine,
Czech Geological Survey

New York Medical Journal / Philadelphia Medical Journal, Vol. LXXVIII, No. 14. Saturday, October 3, 1903

Electricity, A Popular Electrical and Financial Journal, Electricity Newspaper C0., 186 Liberty Street, Volume Xl.
Nos. 1 to 26 inclusive.
July15, l896 – January 6, I897.

Emission of New Radiations by Metallic Uranium, H. Becquerel, 1896

Article has been viewed at least 2825 times.


Well done Frank, good reading!

Just two inputs myself but excuse my bad english.

- Just a month ago there was an articel in a popular magazine here in Austria. They found out that in almost every school collection of minerals there was a pitchblende sample. Sometimes up to hand sized. For decades those samples had been used as study material in schools! We are living in times of security regulations in every part of our lifes. So they overreacted and wanted to collect those pitchblende samples and bring them back to Jachymov (Joachimsthal). How can young student learn about radioactivity without having such samples? Good luck they now sealed such pitchblende samples in some specific synthetic material and it will still be used as a study material. Like I always say you needn`t fear it you must have respect!

- You may not know a fascinating book about Joachimsthal and radioactivity. Unfortunately its in German. The title "Der strahlende Doppeladler".

Christian Auer
7th Dec 2016 7:21am
Frank, this was worth every minute of my time reading! After looking further into some of the topics in your article, I became more concerned and less concerned depending on what various radioactivity in our everyday lives we encounter. you can bet I'll be looking out for radioactive dinnerware and vaseline glass come garage-sale season!

Keep up the great work!


Matt Courville
14th Dec 2016 8:48pm
Great work Frank!

Ralph Bottrill
7th Jan 2017 9:50pm

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