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What's Your Poison?

I was visiting an e-Rocks customer the other day, and was awestruck by his collection of radio-active artefacts.

Many things have changed over the years as learning and science have made our lives safer, but looking back some of these are just incredible.

Display of things that "benefitted you" by radiation!


Many of the items were from the 1920-1930's, though the orange dinner plate glazed with uranium oxide was from the 1940s. Apparently the production of orange plates was only stopped in World War II because the US Government needed all the uranium for the atomic bomb project.

A couple of my favourites from this small collection are set out below.

Torberna - Water Treatment

As you can read from the print, the pottery cask has been stocked with torbernite "natural ore of radium", according to the brochure there were 5lbs (2.5kg) of torbernite used in every jar.

To use, you filled the jar with water to cover the ore, left it overnight and drank the liquid the next day!


Lower down on the shelves was another jaw dropper!

Doramad Radium Toothpaste (c.1940-1945)
Doramad radioactive toothpaste was produced during World War II by Auergesellschaft of Berlin.

The wordage on the packaging/back of the tube explains the following benefits, translated to English. 

Its radioactive radiation increases the defences of teeth and gums. The cells are loaded with new life energy, the bacteria are hindered in their destroying effect. This explains the excellent prophylaxis and healing process with gingival diseases. It gently polishes the dental enamel so it turns white and shiny. Prevents dental calculus. Wonderful lather and a new, pleasant, mild and refreshing taste. Can be applied sparingly. 


The final item that really made me smile were these :

Firestone "Polonium" Spark Plugs (c.1940s)

The concept, patented and manufactured by Firestone, was that polonium-210 added to the centre electrodes of the plug would emit alpha particles which would then ionize the fuel within the spark gap to produce a longer and/or quicker spark on start up.

The product was doomed by the radiactive properties of the polonium-210. With a half life of 138 days the polonium soon decayed away and the advantage was lost. Apart from the obvious problem of needing to change the plugs, stockists had the problem of dealing with unsold out of date stock.

Probably there were a few health and safety issues at the Firestone Factory too!


It was such an interesting collection of human interest artefacts and fun to learn about them.

Of course it was not just the dangers of radioactive materials; perhaps showing my age, but in the early 1960's Clark's Shoes used live Xray machines to show you the fit of your shoes before buying.

And in the early 1970's we were taught oxidation and reduction in the school chemistry laboratory by heating mercury oxide in an open dish, then proding the curious beads of liquid mercury with our fingers!

Generally they say, it is a safer world today! 

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