Radium, in the form of Radium chloride, was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. Soon after, due to sparse regulations and misunderstandings of its nature, radium was seen as a miracle drug and was added to toothpaste, hair creams, and even food. Radium also was used in spas and clinics in the form of therapeutic radium salts and enriched drinking water.
Such products soon fell out of vogue by the 1940s and 1950s when the dangers of radiation poisoning were better understood. Radiation exposure can cause anemia, bone fractures, gastric problems, nausea, headache, necrosis and eventually death. Famous cases of radium poisoning include The Radium Girls, a group of factory workers who contracted radium poisoning after working with radium infused self-luminous paint; and Eben Byers, a wealthy socialite and athlete who drank upwards of 1,400 vials of Radithor, a radium tincture, resulting in bone loss and brain abscesses, which eventually killed him.
Click Page 2 below for a gallery of pamphlets on the past medical use of Radium. For more on Radium, check out our exhibit, Healing Energy: Radium in America.