radioactivity n.
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  1. Radioactivity These days the words Radiation and Radioactivity often evoke fear.

  2. Revigator (ca. 1920-1925) Intended to add radioactivity to drinking water. …. but it was not always so: Advertised by the company as "an original radium ore patented water crock," it sold in the hundreds of thousands between 1920 and the mid-1930s. As a company brochure stated, "Results overcome doubts." "The millions of tiny rays that are continuously given off by this ore penetrate the water and form this great HEALTH ELEMENT--RADIO-ACTIVITY. All the next day the family is provided with two gallons of real, healthful radioactive water . . . nature's way to health."

  3. Standard Radium Solution for Drinking (ca. 1915 - 1920) The label accurately claims that it contained two micrograms of radium element. This would equate to two microcuries of radium-226. the amount of radium-228 would be somewhat less. According to the advertisement it would help with "Subacute and Chronic Joint and Muscular Conditions. High Blood Pressure. Nephritis. The Simple and Pernicious Anemias." Other fine products from the company: "Standard" Radium Solution for Intravenous Use "in ampulles of 2 cc. N.P.S.S. containing 5, 10, 25, 50 or 100 micrograms element" and the "Standard" Radium Compress."

  4. … there was Radium Bread: Envelopes for radium bread produced by the Hippmann-Blach bakery located in St. Joachimstal (Jachymov, now part of the Czech Republic). Joachimstal is sometimes referred to as the "Cradle of the Atomic Age". The envelope above left, written in German, indicates that radium water from Joachimstal was used in the production of the bread ("Unter Zusatz von St. Joachimstaler Radiumwasser" )

  5. .. And thoriated toothpaste Doramad Radioactive Toothpaste (ca. 1940-1945) What Does Doramad Do? 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.

  6. Boot polish and condoms Radioactivity impressed people because of the energy it involved – with the suggestion that that energy could be imparted to people just by consuming a radioactive material. The word Radium in particular was widely associated with products to imply that they were healthy and ‘good’ ( rather like the use of ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ today ! ) All the previous products were radioactive; but many just used the word Radium as part of their name, such was the attraction of radioactivity:

  7. Of those items which did contain radium I find this one of the most scary:

  8. Through the 1930’s most of these products disappeared from the market as scientific knowledge about radioactivity became more widespread. Some radiation sources remained in more or less unrestricted use until much later: Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope First placed in show stores in the early 1920’s they remained in use in the UK until the 1970’s.

  9. Though attitudes to radiation became more suspicious from the 1930’s, the ‘atomic era’ beginning with the detonation of the atomic bomb in 1945 brought (in some circles) new glamour to ‘atomic’ and ‘radioactive’: "Dagwood Splits the Atom" was an educational "freebee" produced in 1949 by King Features Syndicate. Dagwood, with help from his wife Blondie, Mandrake the Magician, and Popeye explains atomic structure and how to create a chain reaction. General Leslie Groves, who headed up the Manhattan Project, provides the introduction, and at the end there is a multiple choice quiz, e.g., "What is changing into helium and producing atomic energy in the sun?: protons, neutrons, hydrogen, infra-red light."

  10. Plutonium powered pacemakers. In the past 25 years accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, as well as incidents of contamination of steel scrap with Cobalt-60 via recycled medical radiation equipment, have drastically changed public perceptions of ‘radiation’ and ‘radioactivity’. Beneficial uses of radiation ( e.g. in medicine ) don’t have the same impact as the fear factor. What’s important is that students gain accurate scientific knowledge about radioactivity and radiation, with as much practical input as possible. All images from Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection at