Radium Girls

radium girls 2


Dial Painters, another lesson learned with radioactive materials.




In 1903 Radioluminescent paint, the early form of green glowing paint, was patented by mixing radium with zinc sulfide. Young women were hired to paint watch dials with it, and tragically became known as the “Radium Girls” – getting doses that are about 13,000% more than the maximum allowable dose by today’s standards. They were told the only side effects were rosy cheeks so some would paint their nails and even their teeth with it to surprise people at night. All the while, the company’s higher level employees knew of the dangers and took special precautions to protect themselves. Literature about radium hazards existed as far back as 1906 and was commonly disseminated to hospitals and doctors but not made available to the public.




In 1922 the first dial painter, Grace Fryer, started losing her teeth, and then other ladies started developing all sorts of problems. In 1924 the company hired a Harvard physiology professor, Dr. Cecil Drinker, to look into the plant safety. He found lots of serious problems and made recommendations. As a result the company barred him from publishing and edited his report to reverse every negative note with praise before handing it to the Department of Labor (see quote below). In 1925 a dentist finally made the one common connection with all of these ladies. Grace then began investigating her former employer. A medical specialist, claiming to be sent by a friend, offered to examine her and concluded she was in perfect health. As it turns out he was a plant by the company to maintain the ongoing campaign of misinformation. 4 other works died between 1922 and 1924 and their deaths were attributed to various other causes, including another famous industrial disease of phosphorus poisoning from making matches. Finally the National Consumers League got some victims in touch with Dr. Drinker which led to a discovery of the differences in Dr. Drinker’s report. Then a journalist blew the cover off of it and started a litigation nightmare for the company. Where they remorseful? See what you think from this statement from the president of the company:   


“We unfortunately gave work to a great many people who were physically unfit to procure employment in other lines of industry. Cripples and persons similarly incapacitated were engaged. What was considered an act of kindness on our part has since been turned against us.”     



“Every girl is in perfect condition”


(From falsified Dr.’s report)


radium girls