In the late 1910s—in an unnerving prologue to the atomic age—there was a brief mania for radium.
A 1909 issue of Popular Science Monthly contains a piece about how plants react to radium. Since radium emits gamma radiation, which kills cells and mutates DNA, they don't generally respond well. So why are these plant roots curving towards it?
The famous radium girls took the reputation of radium from the savior of the sick to the killer of the poor. Working in a factory at a time when radium was considered the best way to improve health, by the time they died, they were exhaling radon gas and their hair glowed in the dark.
Before we understood that radiation exposure can be deadly, people thought it was just a fun ingredient to make things glow. Here are some of the amazing, disturbing products from those simpler times. None of these would be deemed even remotely safe today.
It's the same old story. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Boy uses radioactive condom for virility. Yeah, romance has a shelf life of forever.
Back in the day, you could shove all sorts of goods containing that miracle chemical radium in your body. There were radium-infused beers, chocolate, and suppositories. But radium-mania didn't stop with quack remedies.
Richard Handl, was arrested by the Swedish police for the possession of nuclear material including radium, americium, and uranium. The inquisitive man was creating a nuclear reactor to see if it's possible to split atoms at home." Crazy, but true.
If you were a strapping gent looking to improve your virility in the early 20th century, one such option would be the radium suppository. Nothing says "lothario" quite like shoving a radioactive pellet up your rectum.
If you've been wondering where the great stories of radioactive mutants and nuclear apocaplyse have gone, Israeli film student Daniel Fallick has the answer. His short Radium, set in a nuked Tel Aviv, gives us a Middle Eastern Mad Max.
The January 28, 1910 Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois) ran portions of an interview with Thomas Edison titled, "We Are Animals, Says Mr. Edison: Inventor Predicts Cheaper Clothing and Less Manual Labor." The entire piece appears below.