Radithor (ca. 1928)

Prior to being emptied, the bottle pictured at left contained one-half ounce of Radithor, i.e., triple distilled water guaranteed to contain at least 1 microcurie each of Ra-226 and Ra-228. The manufacturer of the product, Bailey Radium Laboratories of East Orange, New Jersey, offered $1,000 to anyone who could prove the product contained less than the stated amount. No one ever did.

However, another of the company's guarantees, that "Radithor is harmless in every respect," proved false.  Radithor is one of the few radioactive quack cures that can be unambiguously linked to someone's death, specifically that of Eben Byers at age 51.

Byers was the  founder of the A.M. Byers Company, one of the world's largest steel companies.  In 1928, the Pittsburgh industrialist and one-time U.S. amateur golf champion (1906) injured himself on a party train following a Harvard-Yale football game.  At the recommendation of his doctor, he began drinking Radithor, and he continued to do so long after the injury healed  - he averaged three bottles a day for two years.  Byers stopped consuming Radithor in 1930 when his teeth started falling out and holes appeared in his skull. Perhaps more than anything else, his death in 1932 alerted the public, and much of the medical profession, of the harmful effects of "mild" radium therapy.

For additional details, see "The Great Radium Scandal" by Roger Macklis in the August 1993 issue of Scientific American.

Size:  2 1/8" high (not including cork)

Exposure Rates: ca. 2 uR/hr above background at one foot, ca. 35 uR/hr above background on contact.

 

 

Quoting a UP press release from April 2, 1932: "Dr. C.C. Moyar, Pittsburg physician who prescribed "radithor" for Eben Byers, who died Thursday in New York City, denied today that "more than 100 patients" are suffering from radium poisoning. Dr. Moyar said Byers died from a combination of blood diseases which had induced gout. Dr. Moyar said: "The statement of a New York physiotherapist to the effect 100 patients of a Pittsburg physiotherapist were suffering from radium poisoning was an absolute lie. I am the physiotherapist referred to. I never had more than a dozen patients on radium water at any one time. I never had a death among my patients from radium treatment . . . I have taken as much or more radium water of the same kind Mr. Byers took and I am 51 years old, active and healthy."

Donated by Roger Macklis.

 

Radioactive Quack Cures              Museum Directory

Last updated: 02/17/09
Copyright 1999, Oak Ridge Associated Universities