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By Bell, Danna C. | The Science Teacher, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Right to the Source


Bell, Danna C., The Science Teacher


Exploring Science and History With the Library of Congress

Dancing With Radium

When Marie and Pierre Curie discovered the chemical element radium in 1898, it was thought to be a cure for everything. Its harsh toxicity was as yet unknown. People took radium baths at spas to treat rheumatism. Women rubbed radium creams on their faces. Stuffed animals were made with eyes of glowing radium, which was also painted onto telephone dials, gasoline gauges, and fishing lures so they could be seen in the dark. Radium was put into cleaning products. It became so popular that newspapers wrote about the need to find new supplies of the popular element.

Radium even made its way into musical theater. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, featuring singing and dance, included the song "My Radium Girl," composed by Louis Hirsch and Gene Buck (sheet music pictured). Soon, other dancers caught the radium craze. Loie Fuller, a noted dancer and designer, said in an Omaha Daily Bee article in 1905 that she had met with Madame Curie to develop phosphorescent salts for use on costumes.

Soon other dancers coated their costumes with phosphorescent salts or pitchblende so that they would glow like radium. Newspapers highlighted performances of the "Radium Dance." Dancers skipping with glowing ropes coated with radium starred in the Broadway show Piff! Paff! Pouf!

The Radium Dance inspired original musical compositions, as well. W. Paris Chambers wrote "King Radium," and William M. …

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