Illinois River Valley Industrial Heritage Trail

in progress

On March 10, 1925 the first civil suit for damages was filed on behalf of the ‘Radium Girls.’During the 1910s and 20s, radium was considered a medical cure-all for everything from blindness to asthma. The U.S Radium Corporation employed hundreds of young women in Essex County, New Jersey and Ottawa, Illinois to paint radium onto watch dials and military instruments.Women workers were instructed to shape the paintbrushes to a fine point with their lips in order to paint the numbers onto watch faces. They soon fell ill. They lost teeth and their jaws rotted and shattered. The death toll began to rise.U.S Radium and other related companies initially tried to smear the women as suffering from syphilis. An investigation revealed the use of radium by dial painters and that the women were suffering from radium exposure. The case received significant media coverage. Extremely frail and sick young women appeared in court, barely able to walk or testify. The company agreed to settle the case: $10,000 for each woman, a $400/year pension, and medical care. The case impacted fields related to occupational safety and health.