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Even more captivating to the affluent members of society was the introduction of radium water. According to a 1913 Tribune brief, the medicinal beverage was created by pouring water into an “earthenware receptacle” containing a small amount of radium, which eventually “charged” the water with emanations. The Tribune predicted that an apparatus for making radium water would become a must-have in a few years.

(The cost of a container may have been within reach of the average person, but radium didn’t come cheap; in 1914, according to a doctor’s column in the Tribune, the market price for a single grain of radium was about $5,000. And it wasn’t in great supply.)

Renowned doctors touted the benefits of this “elixir of life” and its healing effect on their patients. Radium expert Dr. Luther S.H. Gable of the Detroit Institute of Technology reported to an audience at a 1931 lecture that a radium-infused beverage was the cornerstone of his health regimen. He regularly drank a radium “highball,” fruit juice containing emanations, to maintain peak physical condition, the Tribune said.

nbsp;textile Boots biker Lining Black Cowboy Bianco When a Tribune reporter paid Gable a visit in 1932, the Chicago-area resident offered his visitor a highball, assuring him that “the reported deaths from drinking radium water are due not to the presence of radium, but rather to a cheap (radioactive) substitute, mesothorium.”

But there most certainly was a dark side to radium. Deaths from repeat exposure were mounting. A celebrity death that same year, tied to radium water, would finally rouse government to action to halt the sale of medicinal radium preparations.

But years before that headline-making event, it was young working-class women who came to serve as the tragic bellwether for radium poisoning.

As early as 1925, newspaper articles noted the alarming case of female workers in watch dial factories suffering a degeneration of the tissues of the jaw. Medical attention in many cases failed to stop the horrifying decay, and several women died.

Bianco Cowboy Black Boots nbsp;textile biker Lining The culprit was the luminous radium-containing paint used to create glow-in-the-dark watch and clock dials. The women, as part of their routine, would place the paintbrushes in their mouths to “point” the bristles and in doing so would ingest a small amount of the radium paint.

Several sickened women sued the watch companies in two states, including Illinois, and won settlements. The affected women of the Radium Dial factory in Ottawa, 80 miles southwest of Chicago, became known as the “Radium Girls” and “Ottawa’s living dead.” Not all died premature deaths, but their suffering led to changes in industry.

What turned the tide against radium water and its sellers was the jarring death of wealthy steel mogul Eben M. Byers. The industrialist, advised by a doctor in response to his nagging arm injury, had been a daily drinker of the radium beverage Radithor for two years. Byers, at 51, was found to have “necrosis in both jaws, anemia and a brain abscess, all symptomatic of radium poisoning,” the Tribune reported a few days after he died in late March 1932.

Government response was swift. The Federal Trade Commission, which already was investigating the “radium cures,” promised to ramp up its inquiry, and health officials in major cities, including Chicago Board of Health President Herman Bundesen, vowed to crack down on sellers of radium preparations.

Bianco nbsp;textile Boots Lining Cowboy Black biker The glow of radium’s medicinal magic was fast fading. What was once trumpeted as an “elixir of youth” had become “bottled death,” as the Tribune’s Roy Gibbons said in a 1959 look back at the radium fad.

Will we ever stop chasing after lightning in the hopes of bottling it?

ckujawa@chicagotribune.com

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Material & care

Upper material: High-quality imitation leather

Lining: Textile

Insole: Leather

Sole: Synthetics

Padding type: Cold padding

Details

Shoe tip: Pointed

Heel type: Block heel

Upper detail: Side zip

Shoe fastener: Buckle/bow

Pattern: Plain

Article number: BJ011N07O-Q11

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