From the Standard Chemical Company Photo Album (ca. 1915-1920)—no caption but I’m guessing that what we’re looking at are lead-lined tubes for containing a “radioactive source,” an elegant leather snap case and a wrapped shipping parcel (with twine & sealing wax for security).
After Marie Curie’s discoveries in the late 1800’s and well into the early 1900’s—before the dangers of radiation were well understood—radium, radon, uranium (and radiation in general) were considered modern and high-tech. Plenty of products that were not even radioactive capitalized on the glamor of radioactivity by incorporated “radium” and “uranium” etc. into their brand names. (Radium Brand Butter, Radium Brand Cigars, Radium Cigarettes, Radium Condoms, Radium Beer, X-Ray Soap, Uranium Ice Cream, and more recently: Radioactive Energy Drink.)
But radioactivity was also touted as a a miracle cure and innumerable products were manufactured with radioactive ingredients and long patent-medicine-style lists of claimed health benefits.
From The Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection—top left: radium water (jar itself is not measurably radioactive, some sort of emanation device (e.g., a radioactive disk) would have been kept inside); to the right: Hungarian Radiumvizes Bread (radium water … was used in the production of the bread … As such, the bread would have contained slightly elevated levels of radium, but nothing that could be considered dangerous); below: “Radioaktive“ Toothpaste from WWII Germany. According to the tube, “Its radioactive radiation increases the defenses of teeth and gums”; second row: two radioactive mens health products—left: Vita-Radium Suppositories (“These suppositories were guaranteed to contain real radium—and probably did”); right: The Radiendocrinator (Product directions: Male—Place Radiendocrinator in the pocket of this adaptor… Wear adaptor like any “athletic strap”… This puts the instrument under the scrotum as it should be. wear at night. Radiate as directed.); third row left: Arium Radium Tablets (For rheumatism. neuritis, neuralgia, gout, etc. Directions: “Take two tablets with glass of water before or after each meal. To derive the most beneficial effects, ARIUM should be taken regularly as directed.”); on right: radium bromide bottles (“These homeopathic triturations containing radium bromide powder were distributed from a pharmacy in Pennsylvania in the 1960s”); bottom left: Radithor “Eben Byers was the founder of the A.M. Byers Company, one of the world's largest steel companies… At the recommendation of his doctor, he began drinking Radithor… 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.” (1932 WSJ headline: The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off); on right: a Wards Radium Ore Heating Pad.
Like Eben Beyers, mentioned in the caption above, Marie Curie, herself, was an unwitting victim of radiation exposure.
By the 1950s & 1960s, while the public stilled viewed radiation as something modern and futuristic, this view was now tinged with the threat of atomic war and nuclear fallout. Retail kits for detecting radiation ran the gamut from uranium prospecting, to bomb-shelter fallout-detection to educational science kits. The idea of radioactivity as a panacea and cure-all had largely fallen out of favor—(although the radium bromide above is from the 1960s!)
(Photos of radiation testing kits, after the fold…)
Beach Packaging Design