Radium infuser for drinking water

I've blogged old radium-based health product ads before, but this one is a bit of a cake-stealer: the Revigator, sold in the 1920s, was a uranium-infused crock that you filled with drinking water so that it could be made radioactive prior to imbibing.

The glazed ceramic jar had a porous lining that incorporated uranium ore. Water inside the jar would absorb the radon released by decay of the radium in the ore. Depending on the type of water, the resulting radon concentrations would range from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand picocuries per liter.

Considerable confusion persists about the correct pronunciation of "Revigator." The solution can be found in the question-and-answer section of a 1928 sales brochure of the Revigator Water Jar Company. The answer: "re-vig-a-tor. Accent on the vig."

Produced by the Radium Ore Revigator Company (aka the Revigator Water Jar Company) of San Francisco California. Although the address on the jar itself is 260 California Street, their headquarters were at Sutter and Taylor in the Revigator Building which is still there. Their Hayward offices were located at 519 Castro Street, and 641 Castro Street. Some of their regional offices included the following addresses:

Today's radium WTF



  1. Name me one superhero (one) that didn’t appreciate a good dose (albeit accidental) of radiation –  up and atom!

    heeyyyy Dr X, where are the hormesis nut…uh experts when you need them anyway?

  2. “Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it’s bad for you. Pernicious nonsense! Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year! They oughta have ’em, too.”

    J. Frank Parnell

    1. Yea, makes me think of one that they are just now beginning to learn the dangers of…fluoride. There were those who were warning about the dangers from day one, but hey, they where considered quacks, and still are; according to the FDA and AMA.
      If progress means moving forward, what does Congress mean?

      1. The difference is that radium as health fad was never evidence-based, and fluoridation is. Which is really what the distinction with quackery is all about.

      2. Yea, makes me think of one that they are just now beginning to learn the dangers of…fluoride. There were those who were warning about the dangers from day one…

        But did anyone listen? Noooo… they just let those dirty commies corrupt the purity of good Americans’ bodily fluids.

  3. Long book short, this was one of a thousand such brands and variants on this theme. They were as ubiquitous as shoe store x-ray machines, once upon a time!

    The accepted term among cultural historians of science is “nuclear culture” but for the period, “radium WTF” works just as well.

  4. Someone with a geiger counter should go check those addresses.  I bet the radium business ca 1920 left a lasting effect on a neighborhood.

  5. Radon gas and low radiation is still used in Europe where people sit in an old mine and are exposed to a low level of Radon gas. Have a look in Google: Radon Heilbad.

  6. There’s worse. I forget where I saw it, but there was a device which men would use directly upon their gonads, with the idea that the power of radium would lend vitality to their sperm.

      1. This explains the behaviour of certain baby-boomers…like for instance…certain immediate family members of mine.

  7. 45 or so years ago I remember asking my grandmother why she didn’t use an unusual looking dispenser and her telling me it was only for show because it had uranium in it and wasn’t safe to drink from. Now my mother owns that house and I think that thing is still on a shelf in the kitchen!

  8. I saw hungryjoe’s post about addresses and I took another look at the ad and I see my grandmothers sisters name listed as one of the buyers from Dallas Tx! that must be where it came from!

    1. That’s right: today’s radiation WTF is pulling double duty as yesterday’s privacy violation WTF!

  9. They have a couple of these on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, NM.  Right next to the shoe machines mentioned above.  In fact the nuclear medicine section was one of the strongest parts of the Museum.  

  10. In a Science and Psuedo-science class in college I got to see one of these  since my Professor was a collector of quackery. And yes, this class changed my thinking about so many things around me.

  11. They had one of these in the much-missed Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minneapolis. From there I recall documentation about people’s jaws deteriorating from drinking radium water. How that benefited their health is puzzling. Here’s the story of one victim:


    “The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off”

    1. Revigator water (i.e., water with an infinitesimal amount of radon dissolved in it) and radium-laced water are totally different things. The AMA has a Revigator sitting on a shelf in its headquarters–it’s about as radioactive as the Colorado mud it’s made from. 

      So, neither is particularly good for you. But only one of them is apocalyptically bad for you. Byers was unlucky twice over. First, he found one of the few “honest” radium tonic dealers, who actually put radium in his “radium” tonic. Second, he was one of the relatively few who could afford a lethal dose, which worked out to thousands of tiny $2 bottles of radium–a pretty good chunk of change in 1930. It was an even bigger rip-off than that five-hour energy crap! And just as bad for you!

  12. We may be looking at the source of all Happy Mutants everywhere. Other than, of course, the cosmic rays and the divine influence and the tampering with forces we were not meant to comprehend.

    1. We may be looking at the source of all Happy Mutants everywhere.

      My hometown’s a Superfund site. I’m afraid that I have to look to toxic chemicals rather than radiation as the source of those supernumerary nipples.

  13. Saw one of these at the Rose Bowl flea market about 20 years ago.

    Common but ill-advised practices from my 60s childhood: 1) If I was well-behaved at the dentist, he gave me a drop of mercury in a bottle to take home and play with. I’d pour it onto my palm, where it felt really heavy. Eventually I’d drop it on the floor where  it would disappear into thousands of tiny beads and be absorbed into the generally kipple-strewn environment. 2)UV rays to treat acne (resulting in the worst sunburn of my life when the doc took a long distance call. 3) a fluoroscopic contraption in shoe stores that allowed you to see through the shoe with your foot in it to help determine fit.

  14. Well, there is this about the idea of low dosage exposure actually “triggering” some beneficial effects, some seem kind of ambiguous against the background of overall general human health and reported illnesses…I dunno but it always comes up when one becomes curious about one’s own possible exposure and the LNT (linear no-threshold) model. 

  15. yeah
    I played with all of those cool post WW11 toys mercury, asbestos, DDT and assorted other great developments of the time. Thought the foot Xray at Daytons in DT MPLS was cool and used it too much. Can’t believe none of it has done me in yet, but I’ve worked with multiple nasty chemicals all my time here on our little spot of the universe. Now I have foot probs and so do my brothers who I probably ran thru the xray  also. Scary 

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