The radioactive death of Eben Byers (2023)

By the time Eben Byers realized how dangerous Radithor was, the radium treatment had already consumed much of his skull and jaw and it was too late.

The radioactive death of Eben Byers (1)

"While young and mentally alert, he could barely speak," attorney Robert Hiner Winn wrote for Time magazine of his visit to Eben Byers in 1930. Winn was researching a popular radium infusion drug called Radithor for the Federal Trade Commission when Byers' condition. "His head was wrapped in bandages. He had undergone two consecutive surgeries that had removed all of his upper jaw except for two front teeth and most of his lower jaw. All of the remaining bone tissue in his body was slowly dissolving and holes were actually forming in his skull.

Byers consumed Radithor in large quantities for several years, believing it would improve his health. By the time he realized he had killed him, it was already too late.

radioactive water

In the early 20th century, the radioactive element radium was believed to have extraordinary healing properties. Radium release therapy is thought to improve vital processes, as Dr. W. Engelmann in 1913.

Radioactivity could seemingly do it all - stop chronic diarrhea, prevent insanity, delay aging, and create a "wonderful young, happy life," as Dr. C.G. Davis enrolledAmerican Journal of Clinical Medicine.

JJ Thompson, the man who discovered the electron, wrote in 1903 about the presence of radioactivity in well water. This led to the discovery that many of the world's most famous healing springs were radioactive due to the "release of radium" - radon gas - in the ground where the water flowed.

The scientific community of the time quickly realized that radioactivity must be the reason for the healing properties of the springs.

Professor Bertram Boltwood of Yale wrote that the radiation carried electrical energy deep into the body, where it stimulated cellular activity and "stimulated all the organs of elimination and elimination."

The Radium Girls had no idea what the glow-in-the-dark paint they worked with every day was doing to them.

Unfortunately, radium decomposed very quickly in air. To get the healing effects of radon, the water had to be consumed at the source. This led to the development of devices that could add radioactivity to household water, such as the Revigator - an "eternal source of home health". Patented in 1912, the Revigator was a vessel made of radium-bearing ore that could hold several gallons of water. Fill it up every night and enjoy radioactive water at will.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, wireless products conquered the market. Toothpaste, beauty creams, groceries, suppositories - if they could be made with radium, they would be available to the health-conscious consumer.

It worked well until his jaw fell off

The radioactive death of Eben Byers (3)

Eben ByersBorn April 12, 1880. A graduate of Yale University, he was known as an accomplished athlete and womanizer. He won the United States Amateur Golf Championship in 1906 and was President of his father's business, the Girard Iron Company.

Byers had it all for himself.

In 1927 everything changed.

While returning from the annual Harvard-Yale football game on the train, Byers fell off his bunk and injured his arm. His injury caused constant pain, so his doctor prescribed him a popular remedy called Radithor.

Radithor was patented by William J.A. Bailey, a Harvard dropout who claimed to be a doctor. While most quacks were ineffective but ultimately harmless, Radithor proved deadly.

Bailey created it by dissolving high concentrations of the radium-226 and 228 isotopes in distilled water and claimed it cured many diseases, including impotence, by stimulating the endocrine system. It promoted Radithor as a "cure for the living dead" and offered doctors a 17% commission on each prescribed dose.

Byers took his doctor's advice and tried Radithor. He felt it significantly improved his overall health and began consuming large amounts of it — up to three bottles a day — over the next several years. He drank nearly 1,400 bottles of Radithor before realizing the radioactive water was rotting his body from the inside out.

By the time Byers stopped taking radithor in 1930, he had ingested more than three times the lethal dose of radium. The cancer ate at his bones. His upper and lower jaws were decayed - a condition called "radium jaw". The deteriorating tissue was surgically removed, leaving an open hole where his mouth used to be. Byers' brain also developed an abscess and holes formed in his skull.

Byers died on March 31, 1932 at the age of 51.

The gruesome circumstances of his death were widely publicized.Η Wall Street Journalcaptioned it, "Radiowasser was working fine until his jaw dropped."

Byers' ailments as well as those ofRadium Girlwho simultaneously became ill from dying watches with glow-in-the-dark radium, led to greater awareness of the dangers of radiation poisoning and the passage of legislation that banned many products such as Radithor.

Bailey's company was shut down by the FDA, but that didn't stop him. Radium had made him very wealthy, and soon he started another company selling products such as radioactive belt clips, paperweights, and a device that allowed customers to make their own radioactive water.

Eben Byers was buried

Byers was buried in the Byers Mausoleum in Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh - Section 13, Lot 67. He was sealed in a lead-lined coffin designed to absorb the radiation that would emanate from his remains for centuries to come.

It was excavated in 1965 for testing purposes. The study found that radiation levels were still extremely dangerous.

The radioactive death of Eben Byers (4)

Even as the world became aware of the dire consequences of radium poisoning, radium-based products continued to be sold well into the 1980s. One such product wasLifestone-Zigarettenetuisince 1964. The smoke drifted from the base over a small source of radium.

"The amazing efficiency of radium emission protects your health from the harmful element in cigarettes while making them sweeter and milder," the manufacturer claimed.

The radium cigarette holder is said to protect users from lung cancer and promises beautiful faces and the best of health.

Radioactive health sources are still in operation today.


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The radioactive death of Eben Byers (6)

Catherine Stabert Procko

6 years ago

My mother died of radium poisoning from her work at CT Waterbury. clock factory. He was 36 years old. I was 7 and my brother was 9. He suffered a lot.



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The radioactive death of Eben Byers (7)


10 years ago

By 1927, the effects of radium poisoning were well understood through medical reports and the ensuing class action lawsuit brought by the "Radium Girls," radium painters. These cases should have gotten a lot of attention, but I guess it took a rich man's death to get into the WSJ and become known.



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The radioactive death of Eben Byers (8)


2 years ago

I am a retired nuclear engineer and worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for many years. At one point we went to one of the cemeteries where some of the Radium Girls were buried. By holding a Geiger counter over the grave, we were able to detect an increase in radiation from all the radium and "by-products" escaping from the skeleton. Lakehurst Naval Air Base (where the Hindenburg burned) is the military "dump" for all radium-based products recovered from planes and ships over the past 70 years. Nj DEP monitors the groundContinue reading "



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The radioactive death of Eben Byers (9)


1 year ago

My father died of radium poisoning from which he suffered for eight years



The radioactive death of Eben Byers (10)


10 years ago

So sad! Great article



The radioactive death of Eben Byers (11)

Joel Fredericks

3 months ago

Hell, it's now used for YouTube thumbnails.



The radioactive death of Eben Byers (12)


10 months ago

God what a fear for those who said before that it was better they were idiots or something


The radioactive death of Eben Byers (13)

rex good displacement

9 years ago

Is raduim radon?


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The radioactive death of Eben Byers (14)

Harry Day45

1 year ago

I honestly wish I was that pretty



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The radioactive death of Eben Byers (15)

Pee Accountant

1 year ago




The radioactive death of Eben Byers (16)

S, Goebel

2 years ago

In fact, low levels of radioactivity stimulate the immune system and could therefore help with disease, but the curve between radioactivity and health benefits looks good at first, but then falls off quickly, becoming dangerous and deadly at higher levels.

It's like alcohol...a glass of wine might be good for you, but a barrel of wine will probably kill you.



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