Degnen's Radio-Active Eye Applicator (1920s)

Degnen's Radio-Active Eye Applicator (1920s)

The label on the box identifies the item in the above photograph as "Degnen's Radio-Active Eye Applicator" and indicates that it was manufactured by the Radium Appliance Company of Los Angeles, California.   M.L. Degnen, better known for his invention of the Radio-Active Solar Pad, was President of the Radium Appliance Company. If you are interested, for more information about the Radioactive Solar Pad, M.L. Degnen, and the Radium Appliance Company.

The lenses were available in three strengths: single (X), double (XX) and triple (XXX). Based on the measured exposure rate at one foot (ca. 10 to 15 uR/hr above background), I would estimate that the Ra-226 activity of the double strength (XX) device shown here is approximately 1 uCi.  Not particularly "hot," but definitely cool.

Degnen's Radio-Active Eye Applicator (1920s)

Quoting the manufacturer's literature: "the Radio-Active lenses will be found helpful in imperfect refraction, MYOPIA or Nearsight, HYPERMETROPIA or Farsight, PRESBYOPIA or Oldsight, HETROPHOBIA or difficulty in focussing."

"Headaches, caused by eyestrain and other eye disorders, can be quickly relieved by the use of the lenses."

"The best results are obtained by wearing the lenses for a period of from five to ten minutes twice a day, keeping the eyes closed during treatment."

A brochure describing Degnen's Radio-Active Eye Applicator includes testimonial letters that date from 1921 and 1922.

Size of box: ca. 2.75" x 5" x 2"

Exposure rates: ca. 10-15 uR/hr above background at one foot

Degnen's Radio-Active Eye Applicator (1920s)

The Radium Appliance Company was located in an iconic structure in Los Angeles: the Bradbury Building at 304 South Broadway. You might recognize the building interior from the movie Blade Runner. The photo to the right comes from the Library of Congress, prints & Photographs Division, CA-334-11. The image was taken as part of the National Park Service's Historic American Building Survey.

From 1918 to 1932, the Los Angeles City Directory indicated that Radium Appliance Company occupied suite 346.

However, and this is bizarre, the company kept changing the address in their newspaper advertisements. And they did so on a daily basis. For example, in their January 10, 1926 advertisements, the address was 1646 Bradbury Building. On February 14, it was 1654 Bradbury Building. For ads appearing on April 4, 1926, the address was 1668 Bradbury Building. In a little over a week, in the ads of April 13, 1926, the company occupied suite 1675. By June they were identifying their location as 1697 Bradbury Building. This went on for at least 10 years. It was almost as if the Radium Appliance Company didn't want people to know exactly where they could be found.

The Radium Appliance Sales Company et al

The Radium Appliance Sales Company also had offices in the Bradbury Building (suites 526-527), but despite the similarity of name, it and Radium Appliance Company were distinct corporate entities.

There was some sort of arrangement that allowed Radium Appliance Sales Company to sell Degnen's Radio-Active Solar Pad and some of Radium Appliance Company's other products. However, there might have been restrictions on how these items could be marketed. Radium Appliance Sales Company ads never used Degnen's name, nor did they mention Radium Appliance Company. In addition to their office in Los Angeles, they also had branch offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Cincinnati. Radium Appliance Sales Company seems to have been in business from 1919 at least until 1925.

There were at least two other companies with similar names—everyone wanted to appropriate some of Radium Appliance Company's name recognition. One of these, Electro-Radium Appliance Company, was located in Los Angeles. The other, American Radium Appliance Company, had their headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey.