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Special Collections in the History of Medicine

U.S. Radium Corporation
East Orange, NJ
Records, Ca. 1917-1940

October 2001; Revised, June 2003


US Radium Girls - Argonnel

"From 1917 to 1926, the U.S. Radium Corporation was located at the intersection of High and Alden Streets in Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky and Dr. George S. Willis founded the company in 1917. The primary activity at the U.S. Radium Corporation was the extraction and purification of radium from carnotite ore to produce luminous paints, which were produced under the brand name Undark. The plant employed over a hundred workers, mainly women, to paint radium lighted watches and instruments.

During World War I, the U.S. Radium Corporation was a major supplier of luminous watches to the military. However, a major setback for the Corporation occurred when a number of dial painters died from what appeared to be a variety of unrelated health causes. It was later learned that the deaths were due to radiation contamination associated with exposure to radium, one of the prime ingredients of the luminescent paint. A major route of exposure was ingestion, as the dial painters used their mouths to form a point on the radium-tainted paintbrushes, enabling them to paint the small numbers on the watches."

(Source: Revised Work Plan, Volume 1 of 2, U.S. Radium Site, City of Orange, Essex County, New Jersey. Remedial Planning Activities at Selected Uncontrolled Hazardous Substance Disposal Sites USEPA Region II (NY, NJ, PR, VI). White Plains, NY: Malcom Pirnie, Inc., 1990, pp. 2-4 to 2-5.)

Harrison S. Martland, MD (1883-1954), chief medical examiner for Essex County, New Jersey, was instrumental in recognizing the cause of death in the dial painters. Dr. Martland measured the radioactivity in dial painters' bodies and in 1925, published the information connecting their bone disease and aplastic anemias with radium.

Scope and Content Note

The records of the U.S. Radium Corporation of East Orange, New Jersey consist of eighteen reels of 35mm microfilm, dating 1917 to the circa 1940s. The files contain correspondence, reports, published articles, certificates, insurance and legal files, and other records documenting the company's business activities and investigations into the contamination of its female radium dial painters by radioluminous paint. Of particular note, are legal files of the case, La Porte vs. US Radium (1934). The records are not in any discernible order. A duplicate set of microfilm is available for Interlibrary Loan requests.

In December 2002, a United States Air Force researcher contacted the Special Collections Department to request the loan of the microfilm for a research project he was conducting. The outcome of this request was an agreement made with Distor, Inc. to scan the microfilm to create pdf files of the textual images and a searchable database using LaserFiche® software. As part of the project, a Table of Contents to the pdf files was also created. It provides additional subject insight to the microfilm. This project was completed in spring 2003. The pdf files and proprietary software database may only be searched in-house in the department.

In addition to the microfilm, the collection consists of data abstracted from the microfilm by Dr. Claudia Clark.

For a related collection, see the Harrison S. Martland, MD Papers, 1905-1954 (MC/1).


Claudia Clark, Ph.D. donated the collection to UMDNJ-Special Collection on 14 June 2001. The original microfilm was made at Argonne National Laboratory sometime between 1969 and 1981 from documents furnished Argonne for research purposes by U.S. Radium Corp. The records were contaminated by radium, and the originals were disposed of as contaminated waste.

Dr. Clark was furnished with a copy of the microfilm when she was supported by Argonne's Department of Educational Programs to work on Radium Dial Painter Study records as part of her Ph.D. thesis. This microfilm set was Dr. Clark's to keep. The original microfilm may still be at Argonne National Laboratory.

For additional information about the Radium Dial Painters, see Dr. Clark's book, Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).


18 Reels 35mm microfilm (original duplicate).

18 Reels 35mm microfilm (ILL duplicate).

11Claudia Clark's Research Data from Microfilm (notebook).
2Claudia Clark's Research Data from Microfilm.
3Claudia Clark's Research Data from Microfilm. Re: Chemists & Chemical Processes.
4Claudia Clark's Research Data from Microfilm. Re: U.S. Radium Corp. Physical Plant.

Table of Contents to Pdf Files on Special Collections Web Site

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Rev. 6/13/03

Page Revised: 10/22/03

For reference service and information contact:

Robert Vietrogoski
Special Collections
(973) 972-7830
FAX (973) 972-7474 Copyright © 2013, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (Further Copyright Information)