United States Radium Corporation; Radium Girls
Orange, New Jersey- The United States Radium Corporation was presented in 1921, bringing new life to the world of radium. Mixing Uranium and Zinc Sulfide - an idea first used in 1902 - the USR created a glow-in-the-dark, multi-use paint, named UNDARK. The paint was used to coat the numbers and hands of watches, enabling the soldiers of WWI to determine the time of day in any lighting. The women who hand-painted these watches and clocks, now known as the “radium girls,” were assured that the paint was entirely safe to work around. Although the USR had suspicions of health hazards, the women worked day after day unknowingly exposing themselves to the dangers. The men of the USR, however, often wore both gas masks and lead vests while working behind lead walls. Radium was even advertised many times by the USR to be "good for your health."
The women ingested uranium daily, wetting their paintbrushes with their own mouths in order to get a finer point. Some even used the UNDARK paint as makeup, putting it on their lips, nails, and even teeth to created a show when they went to parties and speakeasies. Because of this, the women began to fall ill. Such things as anemia, broken bones, necrosis (jaw), and losing teeth one by one were found in many of the workers. The USR hired fake doctors to diagnose the women with Syphilis, in order to keep their company thriving.
In 1927, an ex-dial painter named Grace Fryer sued the company after suffering from painful jaw decay, tooth loss, and inflammatory abscesses. She received $250,000 USD in compensation, and an additional $600 for each year she continued living. She was able to collect a total of $2,400 before passing away in 1931. Before passing, she reported her tissues would often glow after sneezing.
“There were so many radium painters… that it was common to recognize them on the streets even on the darkest nights because of the glow around them; their hair sparkled almost like a halo.” -Ross Mullner