Today we take a look at the most dangerous job in the entire history, and no, we are not talking about miners or soldiers, this job had dozen of people dead in the first year itself. And hundreds more followed. This is the story of The Radium Girls.
The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radium poisoning from painting watch dials with self luminous paints. After being told the paint was “Harmless”, the women in the facility ingested deadly amount of radium after being instructed to point their brushes with the tip of their lips.
The women were instructed to use the brush that way because using rags or water would have considerably increased both the time and cost of the production, as the paint was made from powdered radium, gum and water.
In 1923, the first painter died, and before her death, her jaw fell from her body! By 1924, 50 women who worked at the factory fell ill, where a dozen died.
What Really Happened?
From 1917 to 1926, U.S. Radium Corporation, originally called the Radium Luminous Material Corporation, was engaged in the extraction and purification of radium from carnotite ore to produce luminous paints.
An estimated 4,000 workers were hired by corporations in the U.S. and Canada to paint watch faces with radium.
The brushes would lose shape after a few strokes, so the U.S. Radium supervisors encouraged their workers to point the brushes with their lips (“lip, dip, paint”), or use their tongues to keep them sharp.
The Secret That was Kept Away From Them
Because the true nature of the radium had been kept from them, the Radium Girls painted their nails, teeth, and faces for fun with the deadly paint produced at the factory. Thus ingesting and contacting more of it to their bodies.
The Horror That Followed
Among the first to see numerous problems among dial painters were dentists. Dental pain, loose teeth, lesions and ulcers, and the failure of tooth extractions to heal were some of these conditions.
U.S. Radium and other watch-dial companies rejected claims that the afflicted workers were suffering from exposure to radium. For some time, doctors, dentists, and researchers complied with requests from the companies not to release their data.
In 1923, the first dial painter died, and before her death, her jaw fell away from her skull. By 1924, 50 women who had worked at the plant were ill, and a dozen had died.
At the urging of the companies, worker deaths were attributed by medical professionals to other causes. Syphilis, a notorious sexually transmitted infection at the time, was often cited in attempts to smear the reputations of the women.
The inventor of radium dial paint, Dr Sabin A. Von Sochocky, died in November 1928, becoming the 16th known victim of poisoning by radium dial paint, and this helped strengthen the case against the companies.
Five women in Illinois who were employees of the Radium Dial Company sued their employer under Illinois law, winning damages in 1938.