Maria Rentetzi is professor and chair of Science, Technology, and Gender Studies at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany. She is the author of Trafficking Materials and Gendered Experimental Practices: Radium Research in Early Twentieth Century Vienna and coeditor of Boxes: A Field Guide.
The discovery of radium by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898 eventually led to a craze for radium products in the 1920s until their widespread use proved lethal for consumers, patients, and medical practitioners alike. Radium infiltrated American culture, Maria Rentetzi reveals, not only because of its potential to treat cancer but because it was transformed from a scientific object into a familiar, desirable commodity. She explores how Standard Chemical Company in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania—the first successful commercial producer of radium in the United States—aggressively promoted the benefits of radium therapy and its curative properties as part of a lucrative business strategy. Over-the-counter products, from fertilizers to paints and cosmetics to tonics and suppositories, inspired the same level of trust in consumers as a revolutionary pharmaceutical. The radium industry in the United States marketed commodities like Liquid Sunshine and Elixir of Youth at a time when using this new chemical element in the laboratory, in the hospital, in private clinics, and in commercial settings remained largely free of regulation. Rentetzi shows us how marketing campaigns targeted individually to men and women affected not only how they consumed these products of science but also how that science was understood and how it contributed to the formation of ideas about gender. Seduced by Radium ultimately reveals how innovative advertising techniques and seductive, state-of-the-art packaging made radium a routine part of American life, shaping scientific knowledge about it and the identities of those who consumed it.