Posted BY: Cassandra Chambers

An incident from 100 years ago has a remarkable echo in the mRNA injection reality of today.

After radium’s discovery by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898, one of its commercial applications was in the production of radiant watches for seeing time in the dark.  The U.S. Radium Corporation (USRC) extracted radium from carnotite ore and produced luminous paints — first in Newark and later in Orange, New Jersey.  From 1917 to 1926, these paints were used to paint watch dials at the company’s factory.  In her 2018 book The Radium Girls, Kate Moore goes beyond statistics and anecdotes to the original sources to bring the young women who painted these watch dials to life.

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Among the hundreds of watch dial painters over the years, there were Katherine Schaub (who started working at age 14); Marguerite Carlough; Grace Fryer; Hazel Kuser; and sisters Albina Maggia Larice, Mollie Maggia, and Quinta Maggia McDonald.  These young women felt excitement and pride working with the beautiful radium paint and earning substantial wages, which some used for stylish clothes and others used simply to support their families.  The painters enjoyed genuine camaraderie in the studio, and working with the fluorescent radium was fun.  Even though the painters were brushed off after every shift to conserve every grain of the expensive radium dust, some painters had a slight glow as they walked home at night.  The painters were instructed to point their brushes before dipping them in the paint in a technique known as “lip, dip, paint.”  They were told that the paint was totally harmless.

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