Watch Dial Painters,
Courtesy, Dr. Ross Mullner and Special Collections, University of Dentistry and
Medicine of New Jersey Libraries.
During World War I and after, young women at the U. S.
Radium Corporation in Orange were employed painting luminous dial watches with a radium
material. Apparently, the women were directed to point up their brushes with their
tongues, imbibing radioactive paint. After the war, it was discovered that these women
were dying of anemia and a disease called radium necrosis (radium poisoning) which ate
away their jawbones. The initial investigation was made by Katherine Wiley of the
Consumers League of New Jersey, who was called in by the family of one of the women in
1924. The League campaigned successfully to have radium necrosis recognized as an
occupational disease by the State Workmen's Compensation Board in 1926, too late, however,
to benefit women who had suffered from radium poisoning before the law was passed. The
League aided them with their lawsuits until 1935, when all proceedings for damages against
U. S. Radium were stopped. The universal horror caused by this case contributed to the
passage in 1949 of a bill making all industrial diseases compensable and extending the
time during which workers could discover illness.