Nu-Klear Fallout Detector (late 1950s-early 1960s)
You've got to love the Nu-Klear Fallout Detector, described in the instructions as "a life saving device for the detection of radiation from fallout." The body of the detector is a hermetically sealed clear plastic container (2.5" high and 3.75" diameter at the base). Inside is a clear central cylinder that contains about 40 small red plastic beads. By shaking the unit, the plastic beads are given a static charge that causes them to rise up and attach to the inside of the cylinder. Exposure to radiation ionizes the air inside the device and this reduces the charge on the beads. When they lose their charge, the beads slide down the wall to the bottom of the cylinder. The faster this occurs, the higher the radiation levels.
Following a nuclear confrontation, the instructions recommend leaving the detector just outside the fallout shelter exit for five minutes. If the beads have not all fallen to the bottom during that time, "you may risk exposure for a few minutes if you are faced with an emergency that cannot wait another day." The bottom of the unit indicates that it was manufactured by Minutemen Industries Inc. of Chicago Illinois. However, the company identified in the instruction pamphlet and on the cardboard box, is the Alodan Corporation of Springfield Illinois. Another example, not in the collection, had a removable label on it that read "The Dr. Henry L. Richter Corp. Nu-Klear Div. Dept. RI [?], BIN 5 Pasadena, Cal 91109."
The ORAU collection has a nearly identical device that is identified as the "Prolastic X-ray Radiation Detector." It was probably intended for evaluating stray radiation around X-ray units. The instructions state "place anywhere around the room. If all balls fall within a month after charging, excess stray radiation may be present."
This particular example came from a chiropractor's office in California. There is no indication on it that would identify the manufacturer.
Gino Failla was the first to conceive the idea of determining a radiation exposure by measuring the rate at which charged spheres move together. His “Failla Cocktail” employed small plastic beads floating on the convex surface of water in a cocktail glass. When the beads were charged, they repelled each other and separated. As the “cocktail” was exposed to radiation, the charge on the beads decreased. This caused the beads to move together at the apex of the water surface. The rate at which they moved was a measure of the radiation exposure. His wife, Pat Failla, told me how her husband had dragged her along as he went from one toy store to another buying baby rattles so he could find the best beads for his cocktail.
The following advertisement describes the purpose and design features of this type of device: