Today we’re dropping some dark and twisted knowledge on you about none other than the Radium Girls.
We aren’t going to waste another second, so let’s jump right in. During WWI there were factories all over the United States that were producing watches and clocks, and what was special about these watches and clocks was that they were being painted with a material that contained a fair amount of radium, causing them to glow. These factories consisted of predominantly women, unheard of at the time, but some actually received fairly decent pay for their jobs because their hands were small enough for such detailed work. For women to successfully complete these tedious paint jobs, they would often have to lick the tip of their paintbrushes, which meant they were ingesting a small amount of radium each time. Sounds a little dangerous, right? Read on.
The women doing this work became known as ‘ghost girls’ because dust from all the radium they were around day in and day out made them develop a certain glow. Yes, they were literally glowing. Some women would even go so far as to apply the paint to their nails and teeth before leaving work and hitting the dances to give them radiant manicures and smiles to impress potential suitors.
Assured by their managers that radium was harmless, the women pressed on and continued to work their factory job with the dangerous chemical. The women began to suffer from extreme toothaches, painful ulcers, the loss of teeth, and even the deterioration of their jaws; these painful and serious conditions resulted in a number of deaths among the workers despite managers denying the allegations. After years of fighting, often some women fighting from their literal death bed, in 1925 Harrison Martland developed a test that proved what the girls knew to be true, radium was to blame for the number of medical issues and even deaths.
Now, there is a ton more information out there about the Radium Girls, so if we have successfully captured your attention, snag yourself a copy of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. (get it here!)
And if you’re a thrift store kind of shopper, perhaps even one that carries around a black light, run your black light over pieces of glass you find that are light green in color, if they glow, then you just found a little piece of history because those dishes contain a small amount of radium!