Radium Emanation Bath Salts (ca. 1930s)

Radium Emanation Bath Salts (ca. 1930s)

These Radium Emanation Bath salts were described by the manufacturer, the Denver Radium Service (DRS), as being good for nervous disorders, insomnia, general debility, arthritis, and rheumatism.

The directions read:

"Empty contents in a quart of hot water. After a few moments add to regular bath solution. Remain in bath 45 minutes with cover over top of tub. Upon leaving bath relax in bed for one hour."

Unfortunately, we found it necessary to dispose of the salts. The latter were absorbing moisture, and this was damaging the cardboard container. East Tennessee can be humid.

Analyses performed on the bath salts by the FDA indicated that they contained approximately 4.8 nCi of Ra-226 per gram, and that the product was a simple mixture "of common salt and carnotite ore." Nevertheless, given the reported concentration of 4.8 nCi/g, I suspect that purified radium was employed rather than carnotite ore.

Size: 2 1/2" high, 2" diameter

One of the impressive things about Denver Radium Services was its wide range of “ethical radium preparations.” Several are identified in the following list of items seized by the federal government in 1945 and 1946: Radium-Active Emanation Bath, Chloradium Ophthalmic Solution, Internal Chloradium Solution, Chloradium Vaginal Jelly, Chloradium Suppositories, the Radium Appliance, the Radium Vitalizer Generator and Narada Ointment.

In addition to Narada Ointment, the Denver Radium Service also sold: Narada Radium Massage Cream ("once used, always used"), Narada Radium Astringent ("wonderfully refreshing"), Narada Radium Tissue Cream ("a perfect skin nourisher"), Narada Radium Liquid Foundation Cream ("perfected after years of research"), Narada Radium Complexion Cream ("no other cream is necessary... cleanser and tissue cream combined") and Narada Radium Balm ("amazing results").

The company's signature product was a white ceramic jar (and the emanator that went inside it) for producing "radium-gas charged health water in office, hotel, home or while travelling." In the earliest reference to the jar I have found, a booklet titled “Attention of Physician” (no date, but post 1921), it was referred to as the Radium Niton Generator and the Radium Emanation Generator. Believe it or not, the name was changed two more times: first to the Radiumactive Vitalizer jar, and finally to the Radium Vitalizer jar. Its radioactive source was a cylindrical white ceramic emanator that was placed inside the jar. The emanator, which I believe could be purchased separately, was first known as the "Radiumizer Vitalizer Generator." At some point, the name was changed to the "Radium Vitalizer Generator."

The Denver Radium Service (DRS), aka the Denver Radium Service Laboratories, projected the impression that it conducted scientific and/or medical research. Indeed, much of its literature extolling the virtues of radium was directed at physicians. The prosaic reality was that the DRS produced radium containing cosmetics and related items.

They never called themselves a company—to have done so might have been misleading. The Denver Radium Service never incorporated, nor did they have a president, secretary, treasurer, or board of directors—at least to my knowledge. The DRS seems to have been a one-person operation, and from 1925 until 1927, that person was William Edgar Bryan. Following his death in 1927, and until her death in 1960, the Denver Radium Service was in the hands of his widow, Sally Bryan.

Additional information about William Bryan can be found in the description of the collection’s Lifetime Radium Vitalizer Water Jar. Additional information about Sally Bryan can be found at the bottom of this page.

In a brochure for the Radiumactive Vitalizer (no date), Sally indicated that the DRS was founded in 1914. But this was pure PR. The earliest mentions of the Denver Radium Service that I have found are from 1925 (in the Denver City Directory and Colorado Business Directory).

The DRS publication “Attention of Physician” made a slightly more credible claim: “RESEARCH LABORATORIES ESTABLISHED 1914.” Beginning in 1915/1916, several of William Bryan’s companies had addresses on Glenarm Place in downtown Denver. Although these companies claimed to be in the ore processing business, they were more concerned with finding investors than processing ore. If some sort of chemistry (e.g., ore processing) was conducted at these locations, I suppose you could call them “research laboratories,” and claim that they were established sometime around 1914-1916.

The beginnings of the Denver Radium Service are more likely to be found in William Bryan’s activities during 1920 and 1921. Although no company affiliation was indicated, the Denver City Directories for these years described him as a producer of radium, uranium and vanadium ores and products. The DRS didn’t produce or process ore, but it did market radium products.

An even stronger case can be made that the real forerunner of the Denver Radium Service was the Radium Products Laboratories which operated from 1922-1924 with Bryan as its president. Radium Products Laboratories, Inc. was involved in the manufacture of radium, radium products and cosmetics—a pretty good description of what the Denver Radium Service would be doing. Another link between the Radium Products Laboratories and the Denver Radium Service: in 1924 the Radium Products Laboratories occupied the second floor of the Pythian Building, the future location of the DRS headquarters.

Addresses for the Denver Radium Service

201, 203, 205, 208 Pythian Building, 3220 Federal Boulevard, Denver, Colorado (1926-1929)

1405 Glenarm Place, Denver, Colorado (1928)

401, 435, 428 Majestic Building, 209 16th Street, Denver, Colorado (1930-1948)

From the late 1940s on, Sally Bryan used her home address for the Denver Radium Service: 671 Logan Street, Denver, Colorado.

Trouble with the Feds

Since the Denver Radium Service shipped radioactive products across state lines and made medical claims for these products, the federal authorities were going to get involved.

The first of the Denver Radium Service’s run-ins with the feds occurred June 9, 1932 when 11 jars of radium ointment shipped to Virginia were seized. The items were judged to be misbranded because the medical claims made for the ointment couldn’t result from the small amount of radium that the ointment contained (FDA case 20351). In other words, the shipment would have been fine had the ointment contained higher concentration of radium.

The following year, in December of 1933, Sally Bryan was charged with being in violation of the Food and Drugs Act (case 22324). This case involved shipments of radium chloride ampoules and Radium Bath Salts which were determined to be misbranded

"for the reason that certain statements, designs, and devices regarding the therapeutic and curative effects of the article, borne on the carton and box labels, falsely and fraudulently represented that it was effective as a treatment, remedy, and cure for nervous disorders, insomnia, general debility, arthritis and rheumatism."

Mrs. Bryan pleaded nolo contendere and the court imposed a fine of $25.

Some ten years later, in late 1945 or early 1946, another shipment to Virginia was confiscated. The FDA Notice of Judgment (case 2036) stated that the products were misbranded because they could not be effective for the medical conditions indicated in the accompanying literature.

Sometime around 1936, the FDA became sufficiently concerned about Sally Bryan's products that they asked Robley Evans at MIT to establish a maximum allowable level for radium in the human body. Four years later, he managed to come up with an appropriate value for rats, his test animals, but their sensitivity to radium was sufficiently different from that of humans that Evans viewed these studies a waste of time. In the early 1940s, Evans proposed a limit of 0.1 uCi based on human studies—the latter indicated that there was no observable effect below 1.5 uCi. For many years thereafter, the limits for other alpha emitting radionuclides in the body were derived from this guideline for radium (see Robley Evans interview in the BRH "Vignettes of Early Radiation Workers").

The little I know about Sally Bryan’s activities prior to 1927 comes from the write-up about William Bryan in "American Biography: A New Cyclopedia" (Vol. 36, p. 125. 1928). Since this write-up was submitted by Sally with the purpose of honoring her late husband, much of it should be treated skeptically.

The biography indicated, and there is no reason to doubt, that Sally was a nurse during the first world war. I have seen nothing to indicate that William also served during the war although he would have been of the proper age.

The biography indicated that her father, Dr. P. H. Chambers, was a Denver physician. It was a small mistake, he was really a dentist. He was also president of the Minerals Recovery Company from 1917 to 1920.  William Bryan was the company secretary, and Harry Bryan, William’s father, was a “manager.” Harry was probably the brains behind the company while Dr. Chambers was a figurehead chosen because of his good reputation in the Denver community.

At the time of William Bryan’s death in 1927:

“Her study in radium chemistry and her work with her famous husband made her an authority on the subject; so that she now heads the Denver laboratories, in which her work is supplemented by that of a group of well known physicians and chemists.”

“Denver laboratories” refers to the Denver Radium Service Laboratories located on the second floor of the Pythian Building (Highlands Masonic Lodge).

“The work of the Denver laboratories has been important especially for having offered proof that radium is not so dangerous as physicians once had supposed... In treatment of disease, he [William] said, it stimulates healthy cells and is antagonistic to and helps eliminate unhealthy cells”

That is what you would expect someone selling radium products to say. Nevertheless, the deaths of the radium dial painters had generated national attention by the time that the preceding was written, and the developing consensus was that radium was more hazardous than previously believed.

The following quote from Bryan’s biography in the Cyclopedia is more difficult to draw conclusions from:

“Mrs. Bryan was the subject of the initial test of the radium solution, which was made Dr. Claud [Claude] Miller, of Denver, at County Hospital, who injected into her blood a quantity of the solution and then a quantity of germ infested blood from an influenza patient. The systemic force of radium eliminated the germs of the dread malady, as it later eliminated the germs of black small pox in a similar test on the same patient. For her bravery, her contribution to science and sacrifice to humanity in general, Mrs. Bryan received a medal from the United States Government and a commendatory letter from President Woodrow Wilson.”

It is probable that Sally was involved in experiments similar to those described above. Claude Miller was a real Denver physician (unlike her father), and there were physicians who injected their patients with radium as frequently as once a week. But Sally would not have been the first to have received such injections—the Radium Chemical Company of Pittsburgh had been selling radium solutions for intravenous use since 1914, well before the experiments involving Sally could have occurred.

While it is hard to believe that she received a medal from the U.S. Government and a letter from Woodrow Wilson, these things are possible. After all, Harry Bryan, her father-in-law, seems to have had connections in Washington. He even castigated Wilson on the front page of the New York Times. Perhaps the president was a forgiving man and did Harry a favor. Who knows?

In the early 1930s widow Sally married Horace D. Hulse, an employee at a tent and awning company. Somewhat conflicted, she subsequently used one of two names: Sally Bryan and Sally Bryan Hulse.

The Denver City Directories from 1928 until 1936 described her as the manager of the Denver Radium Service. In subsequent years, she was identified as either a technician or medical technician. No matter how she was described, Sally was the Denver Radium Service.

It is also worth noting that she received several design patents for radium emanators: Des. 80,216 (1929), Des. 80,478 (1930) and Des. 129,634 (1941).

One final quote from William Bryans’ biography in American Biography: A New Cyclopedia (1928).

“men and women... may be thankful that his [William’s] widow, Mrs. Sally Bryan, is herself an expert in the subject of radium; and that she is the sort of woman who has the energy and the courage to carry on the work of her great husband”

To paraphrase: despite William Bryan’s death, DRS customers could take comfort in the knowledge that the production of radioactive cosmetics and similar products would continue. And continue it did, until 1960 when Sally passed away.

Timeline for Sally Bryan

Year Activity
1884/1885 Sally Chamber was born in Illinois
1910 William Bryan and Sally Chambers were married August 13, 1910
1927 William’s death leaves Sally in charge of the Denver Radium Service
1930-1934 Sally married Horace D. Hulse
1960 Sally Bryan Hulse died

Sally Bryan's Denver Radium Service likely had some sort of business arrangement with the Hammer Radium Company (run by Raymond Hammer).

The companies’ addresses provide good circumstantial evidence for such an interaction.

From 1924 to 1926, the Hammer Radium Company occupied rooms 201 and 208 at 1405 Glenarm Place in Denver. Was it just a coincidence that the Denver Radium Service was located at 1405 Glenarm Place in 1928? A little later, from 1931 to1932, Hammer Laboratories moved into room 435 of Denver’s Majestic Building. This is obviously a case of lightning striking twice because the Denver Radium Service occupied rooms 401, 428 and 438 in the Majestic Building at various times between 1930 and 1948! Sally Bryan, who ran the Denver Radium Service, stated in her company’s literature that she was assisted by some “well known” chemists. Sounds like Raymond F. Hammer to me.

Unlike Bryan, Hammer was a trained chemist, and his expertise when it came to radium was substantially greater. For more information about Raymond Hammer and his company, check out the collection's Hammer Spinthariscope.

Donated by the Colorado Department of Health, courtesy of Robert Terry and Tony Harrison.


  • Anaconda Standard (newspaper article). Speeder Posts Bonds; Killed Shortly Later as His Car Overturns. Wednesday, May 4, 1927. Helena, Montana.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Notices of Judgment Under the Food and Drugs Act. 20351. Misbranding of radium ointment. U.S. v 11 Jars of radium ointment. Default decree of condemnation, forfeiture, and destruction. (F. & D. no. 28366. Sample no. 9565-A). December 1933.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Notices of Judgment Under the Food and Drugs Act. 22324. Adulteration and misbranding of radium bath salts. U.S. v Mrs. Sally Bryan (Denver Radium Service). Plea of nolo contendere. Fine $25. (F. & D. no. 30298. Samples nos. 9563-A, 9564-A, 9568-A). 1934.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Notices of Judgment Under the Food and Drugs Act. 2036. Misbranding of radioactive preparations and appliances. U.S. v. (F.D.C. No. 19411. Sample Nos. 41710-H to 41713-H, incl., 41714-H to 41718-H, incl., 41741-H.). 1946.