Strange Science: Radium Water

Radithor bottleIn the early twentieth century, before the days of energy drinks, people turned to an unusual source to give themselves more energy–radium water.

Marie and Pierre Curie had discovered the radioactive element known as radium in 1898. It had its earliest applications as a part of self-luminous paints for watches, nuclear panels, aircraft switches, clocks, and instrument dials. However, other scientists tried out radium for medical purposes, and the element was purported to have made blind boys in Russia able to see, and to rejuvenate older horses. In France, people took an “afternoon radium cure,” sitting and relaxing in a similar way to a spa day. Others, however, thought that ingesting small amounts of radium might be an easier way for the average person to get some “pep” in their life.

Unfortunately, radium is highly dangerous, even in small quantities. Women who worked in the factories where radium was used for self-luminous paint began to grow ill and die as a result of the practice of placing the tips of their paintbrushes in their mouth to get a fine point on the brush. And people who drank radium water similarly suffered its ill effects. One individual in particular, who drank radium water every day for two years, developed “necrosis in both jaws, anemia and a brain abscess, all symptomatic of radium poisoning.” After his death, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on sales of radium as a cure or health drink.

You can read more about the history of radium water here!

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