Meet The Radium Girls And A Generation Of Radioactivity. 80 Years Later, They Are Still Toxic

Between the years 1917 and 1926, a U.S. corporation manufacturing watches hired 70 women from Essex County, New Jersey. Not even a decade later, nearly 50 of those women had died due to direct contact with radium paint, which ate away at their bones.

The “Radium Girls,” as they were called, were so toxic that you can still feel their presence today. 80 years after their demise, a Geiger counter can jump to uncomfortable levels just standing over their graves. The small-town girls from New Jersey were hired by the company to paint watches with the deadly paint. Their goal was to give the face of the watch a glow-in-the-dark backlight. This new type of watch, popularized by the American Army, was hitting it big in the States. 

The glow-in-the-dark radioactive paint was supposedly harmless, so they painted 250 dials a day. And, of course, they licked their brushes between every other stroke to get a fine point. 

Messy Nessy

In the beginning of the 1920s, these watches were being made by over 4,000 workers across the U.S. and Canada. Many workers, mostly women, were unknowingly entering one of the most dangerous jobs of the century. Dr. von Sochocky, the inventor of the trendy chemical, died in 1927 from exposure to his creation.

Wikimedia Commons

The dangers of radiation weren’t entirely understood during the 1920s, and even more frightening was the increasing popularity of radium across every household in America. Take the “Revigator,” for instance. The flyer below is an advertisement for the next big thing in radioactive consumption. Weird, right?

vyrud3 via photo bucket


It was also common for the average household to use radioactive toothpaste. Now that’s just wild.

Mental Floss

Even companies that didn’t traditionally use radioactive ingredients implied that their products were filled with this miracle formula. This business tactic was mostly found in cosmetics and pampering treatments. A French cosmetic range called “Tho-Radia” became a loved product by many, and eventually found its way to America.


Tho-Radia’s lipsticks, face cream, soap, powder and toothpaste all contained thorium and radium. Fun fact: Thorium can be used as a source of nuclear power.


New Jersey's Radium Girls started to come down with severe symptoms in the early 1920s. Jaws began to swell, and their teeth were falling out left and right. Local dentists began to investigate the mysterious problem and came up with one essential piece of evidence; they were all linked to the radium plants sprouting across the country.

Bureau Of Trade

The Radium Girls took their concerns to court. Being so frail, they could barely raise their arms to take an oath. By the second hearing, all the affected girls were too ill to even be present during the remainder of the case. They eventually settled on a $100,000 settlement, including all medical expenses. 


They were also given $600 per year as annuity until the day they died. The woman who lived the longest past the settlement, survived for only two years.


In that short amount of time, however, the women were able to make a huge impact on factory safety regulations. As a direct ruling on their case, individuals now have the right to sue for damages in the workplace.

Library of Congress

1,600 tons of radioactive material were dumped on the New Jersey site. In the 1980s, the former industrial plant was designated as a Superfund Site, in order to clean up the toxicity in the area.

Jim Henderson

Via: Messy Nessy Chic

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