Radio X Tablets (ca. 1920)
These Radio-X tablets were manufactured (and guaranteed) by the Radium Remedies Company of Pittsburgh, PA sometime around 1920. Quoting the manufacturer's instructions to users:
"Radio X Tablets, without gripe, pain or loss of a meal, or one minute's time, will dissolve the clogging of the gall ducts, enabling the liver to throw off its secretions, putting everything through their proper channels, leaving the system in a natural and healthy condition."
“Men take three of the tablets every night until thoroughly moved, then take two Tablets each 48 hours until thoroughly relieved."
Dosages were scaled down for women and children.
The product was said to work because the invisible rays emanating from the tablets:
“attack and destroy the germs and diseases which infect the human organism... Light, the enemy of all disease, is in this manner introduced inside the human body” (Pittsburgh Press. Sept. 28, 1917).
An analysis of the tin by gamma spectroscopy indicated a total radium content of approximately 30 Bq (1 nCi).More information about the company and its owner, Robert McKnight, can be found towards the bottom of this page.
Price: 25 cents
Size: 2" x 1.5" x 0.5"
Other "Radio-X" products of the Radium Remedies Company included Suppositories, Ointment, Radio-X Complexion Soap, Radio-X Ointment, Radio-X Greaseless Cold Cream, Radio-X Healing Pads, Radio-X Goiter and Lung Pads, Radio-X Neck Pads, Radio-X Eye Pads, Radio-X Solution, Radio-X Insoles, Radio-X Dental Tubes and Radio-X Emanation Water Tubes.
The Radio X pad was promoted by none other than Al Jolson who claimed that it "worked wonders" for his throat.
To the right is a typical advertisement for Radio-X products (Pacific Ports. Volume 4. 1921).
Arthur Miller tells a nice story concerning the Radio-X Emanation Water Tube:
“The Radium Remedies Company... had a big exhibit at Exposition Hall (near the point in Pittsburgh) . . . Their deal to make radium drinking water involved a metal tube, with an eye in one end; put a thread through the eye, hang the tube in a quart bottle of water (must be tightly sealed--suggest use of type of bottle used to make root beer at home). Next day quickly drink the quart of water, refill, repeat next day, etc. ' I took in this exhibit and "made like a customer " and asked the pitchman, how can the radium get through the metal tube? Reply: Radium so powerful that if we had a concrete wall from Pittsburgh to Mexico, it would come through!... Next question: How much radium in tube? And how much cost? Reply: Cost—$100 cash or terms could be arranged at so much per week; radium content--in very impressive voice—one one-millionth of a gram! He could have killed me for my reply (he had a good crowd around): "Oh! At present prices--all of twelve cents' worth!"
Over the years, Radium Remedies Company operated out of several addresses in Pittsburgh, PA:
124 Ohio W. (1916 Pittsburgh City Directory)
701 Lyceum Bldg. (1916 Pittsburgh City Directory)
119 Federal Street (1917-1923, 1925 Pittsburgh City Directories) Room 428
119 Federal (1921 Pittsburgh City Directory)
306 Fitzsimons Bldg., 331 4th Avenue (1921 Pittsburgh City Directory)
601 W. Diamond (1926 and 1927 Pittsburgh City Directories)
There is a possibility that they might have occupied another location, 124 West Ohio Street, an address mentioned on a package insert for Radio-X Tablets (Radio X Guaranteed Not to Contain Any Poisonous Drugs. Western Pennsylvania History, Spring 2008). The package insert I have seen had no address for the company.
Customers could purchase Radio-X products directly from the company headquarters in Pittsburgh, but much of the distribution was through local drug stores. Their area distributors were located as far away as Canada (e.g., Radium Remedies Co. Limited, Hamilton, Ont., and Ingram and Bell Limited, Toronto, Ont.).
From about 1920 to 1922, Radium Remedies Company operated the Radio-X Sanatorium which was located at 920 Heberton Avenue. As depicted in their brochure, it was an attractive facility that even included a sunken Italian Garden. One account regarding the purchase of the property described it as:
“one of the show-places of the city, the house being situated in the center of seven and a one-half acres of beautiful landscape” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 21, 1919).
The article went on to say that Dr. Leteve, Director of the Pasteur Institute of Pittsburgh, was expected to be the director of the sanitarium. Another well-known physician seems to have been involved, S.R. Klein, M.D., Ph.D. The latter, a pathologist at Duquesne University, indicated that he was associated with the Radio-X Sanatorium in an article published in the Medical Summary (Vol. XLIII No. 7, September 1921).
Getting this type of facility up and running required money, and to get that money McKnight issued $150,000 in bonds.
The 6% interest guaranteed by the Radium Remedies Company was mighty attractive considering the fact that McKnight predicted a net annual revenue of $72,000 from the Sanatorium’s operation. Unfortunately, it only operated for two or three years. It went bankrupt long before the bonds were due in 1935 (the only listings for the Sanatorium in the Pittsburgh City Directory were for 1921 and 1922). As you can imagine, some of the bond holders might have lost faith in the Radium Remedies Company, and where their money ended up is anyone’s guess.
Robert McKnight was the founder and president of Radium Remedies Company. Assembling the details of his life has been tricky because Robert McKnight was a very common name. Perhaps half a dozen different Robert McKnights lived in Pittsburgh alone, and almost all of them had a father named Robert and a son named Robert.
As best as I can determine, our Robert McKnight (i.e., the president of Radium Remedies Company) was born October 22, 1868 in Pennsylvania. His father was Robert McKnight and he named one of his sons Robert. His wife Florence was born sometime around 1878-1880, most likely in 1880.
Robert McKnight usually described himself as a chemist. More than that, he was an “eminent American chemist,” a “celebrated American chemist” and a “great American Chemist” according to Radium Remedies Company advertisements. These advertisements, written to look as if they were actual newspaper stories, were published in the June 18, July 25 and September 28 issues of the Pittsburgh Press in 1917.
His specialty was the processing of ore and the recovery of metals. Indeed, he had several U.S. patents in this area:
Art of Treating Ores. Pat. 862,987. Robert McKnight. Pittsburgh. 1907.
Electric Furnace. Pat. 900,192. Robert McKnight. Pittsburgh. 1908.
Treatment of Thorium Ores. Pat. 912,485. Robert McKnight. Pittsburgh. 1908.
Process of Making Compounds of Rare Metals. Pat 1,308,911. Robert McKnight. Pittsburgh. 1918.
The earliest mention I’ve found of his Metal Recovery Company was in a newspaper article from 1906 (Pittsburg Post, Dec. 23, 1906). The article described an attempt to track down a Miss L. Armstrong who had been handling substantial sums of money for a W. J. Atkinson, “the alleged wrecker of the defunct Lincoln bank.” Miss Armstrong would never be found because she didn’t exist. “Miss Armstrong” was an alias used by Atkinson, the fraudulent banker.
The trail led those searching for “her” to room 617 in the Bessemer Building, Pittsburgh. There, on the door to room 617, was the name “G.H. Atkinson” the brother of W.J.
Neither of the Atkinsons was present, but the room was very much occupied. It was serving as the headquarters for the United States Metal Recovery Company. As well he should be, the company president was there taking care of business - President Robert McKnight. For what it is worth, it was just a matter of days before Atkinson was located and sent to jail (Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 28, 1906).
Despite Atkinson’s name being on the door to the office, McKnight denied that his Metal Recovery Company and the Atkinsons were involved with each other. This was a reasonable position to take since an association with a known felon could be bad for business, and McKnight’s business was struggling.
A year earlier, in 1905, things had been looking up. His International Metal Savings Company, the predecessor to the United States Metal Recovery Company, had received a substantial infusion of cash for the construction of an “experimental plant.” Unfortunately, the man who secured the money, C. J. Petgren, was not a happy camper. In exchange for obtaining the capital, Petgren was supposed to receive half of the company’s 960,000 shares and a one-half interest in McKnight’s inventions relating to metal recovery. When McKnight failed to fulfill his part of the bargain, Petgren took the matter to court, and won (June 1907). But McKnight didn’t comply with the court’s judgment, so Petgren and McKnight went back to court in January, 1908.
Based on the following comment that Petgren made at the time of the second court case, you can’t help but conclude that McKnight was a mighty convincing salesman: “and although the stock has no market value as yet, its real value is unquestionable.”
I don’t want to be unfair, but the company had all the attributes of a scam. Let’s take a look at some of the details as revealed in the July 17, 1909 issue of the New Castle News. No longer working with private investors like Petgren, McKnight was taking the company public:
“A new invention perfected by Robert McKnight of Pittsburgh, for metal recovery from ore of any description is being experimented on at Frisco . . . and it is planned to build a large town on the town site of Frisco.” Translation: this is going to be really big
“it is now decided to build and equip a large plant as soon as the necessary capital can be secured.” Translation: McKnight wants your money
“He is unwilling to sell his invention to any rich capitalists, as all the offers have carried with them the provision that 51 per cent off the stock must be included in the deal.” Translation: the potential profits have attracted several wealthy individuals (e.g., Petgren).
“As the inventor wishes to remain in control of his invention, he has declined to sell out... for this reason, he is dependent on small stockholders.” Translation: you don’t need to be wealthy to invest.
“this has prevented his plans from being carried out as rapidly as he would wish.” Translation: while a couple of buildings have been constructed, don’t expect the current operation to be very impressive
“A portion of Frisco has been laid out in town lots, and these McKnight is selling along with stock.” Translation: there are several ways to give McKnight your money
“Mr. McKnight... is also the inventor of about 60 other appliances, many of which are now in general use.” Translation: McKnight is no fly-by-night scam artist
“His work has been carried on with the utmost secrecy.” Translation: don’t expect many details
That year (i.e., 1909) his publicity campaign was in full swing. McKnight was busy promoting stock in the company via newspaper advertisements and speeches. The United States Metal Recovery Company was even sponsoring a baseball team. How much more American can you get?
Alas, it wasn’t long before “the man” caught up with him. In January of 1910, McKnight was back in court accused of making false representations in order to sell stock. He was convicted in April, and in December he began serving a six month jail sentence (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 1, 1910).
Perhaps McKnight used his time in the slammer to reflect upon the error of his ways. And it might have been during one such moment of reflection that he came up with the idea for his next business: radium consumer products. Indeed, he had previously enticed potential investors in his Metal Recovery Company by stating that radium would be a by product of the company operations (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 30,1908).
McKnight appears to have founded the Radium Remedies Company in 1916, but it might have been as early as 1915. I say this because although the Pittsburgh City Directory for 1916 identifies McKnight as president of the Radium Remedies Company, the information for that listing might have been provided in 1915.
At the time of its incorporation (May 17, 1916), the Radium Remedies Company was credited with a capital of $20,000 (profits from the Metal Recovery Company scam?). The documents of incorporation described its purpose as “Manufacturing radio active compounds and remedies from radium, uranium, tungsten or ores of a similar nature” (Alphabetical List of Charters of Corporations. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. June 1, 1915 to May 31, 1917).
Perhaps a more accurate summary of their operations is found in the 1921 Pittsburgh City Directory: “Manufacturers of “Radio-X” medical and toilet preparations.”
Radium Remedies Company Board of Directors
Robert McKnight was the only individual to serve as the president of the Radium Remedies Company.
From approximately 1917 through 1923 David W. McNaugher served as the company treasurer. Sometime in 1923 or 1924, David decided it was in his best interest to devote all his efforts to his job at Bell Telephone.
Joseph McNaugher, undoubtedly a relative of David’s, started out as the secretary of Radium Remedies. Presumably he did a good job, because he was promoted to vice president-secretary. At least, that is how he was described in the 1922 and 1923 Pittsburgh City Directories. He even arranged for his son, Joe Jr. (who was still living at home) to have some sort of job with the company. After David left the company in 1924, Joseph’s responsibilities increased and he became secretary-treasurer for the company.
Where Did Radium Remedies Get Their Radium?
This was something the staff at the Standard Chemical Company (SSC) wondered about as well (Miller). Until 1921 or so, SSC was the world’s major producer of radium. Despite the fact that they were located only a few blocks from Radium Remedies Company, the latter wasn’t purchasing radium from them.
One possibility is that Radium Remedies Co. extracted radium directly from ore themselves—they were probably capable of doing so, at least to a limited degree.
But given the small amounts of radium that they used (e.g., 1 nCi of radium per tin of Radio-X Tablets), the Radium Remedies Company might simply have purchased SSC’s commercial products (e.g., Standard Radium Solution for Drinking) and incorporated it into theirs.
Quoting Arthur Miller’s reminiscences of his time at Standard Chemical Company:
“A box of their [Radium Remedies Company’s] radium elixir-of-life tablets [Radio-X Tablets] was so low in radium content as to defy an accurate determination... With the aid of a number of our group, who made the rounds of several drug stores (buying one box of tablets at each), we collected a dozen or so boxes of the elixir-of-life tablets. It took "Hi" Campbell several days to "ash" same and prepare the lot as a sample. Result: Gordon reported that the radium content was about 10 times what would be found in the dust and dirt swept up off any paved street! Their stuff at least had this merit, it contained so little radium that it would do little or no damage.”
The Collapse of Radium Remedies Company
The year 1924 was a harbinger of bad things to come. All you had to do was look at that year’s Pittsburgh City Directory. Radium Remedies Company had dropped its listing, Robert McKnight described himself as a mere chemist (my apologies if you are a chemist), and Joseph McNaugher wasn’t even mentioned.
It was also a bad year for McKnight’s sons Robert and John. After being arrested, they were described in the press as “members of a gang of high school pupils responsible for more than a score of robberies of East End Homes in the last two months” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 7, 1924). The apples didn’t fall far from the tree.
Radium Remedies Company made a comeback of sorts in 1925 and 1926. Once again, the company was listed in the City Directory with McKnight identified as the president and McNaugher listed as the secretary-treasurer. The one indication of trouble:, D.W. McNaugher had jumped ship.
From its inception, various creditors had been taking Radium Remedies Company to court. But this had been penny ante stuff. In 1924 the number of claims against the company began to increase along with the dollar amounts involved.
The failure of the Radio-X Sanatorium (ca. 1922) was particularly troublesome because the property represented a major investment—$225,000 by one account (Pittsburgh Post, Sept. 21, 1919). Radium Remedies Company seems to have purchased for it using promissory notes that were supposed to come due at some future date.
Most likely because the company failed to pay taxes, the property was seized and put up for auction in a sheriff’s sale Sept. 10, 1923 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 11, 1923). Less than six months later, it was up for auction a second time with Radio-X Sanatorium Company was identified as the “reputed owner”(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 23, 1924).
John Shannon, who sold the property to McKnight’s company, was undoubtedly nervous about ever seeing his $225,000. As such, he went to court requesting that Radium Remedies Company (Radio-X Sanitarium) be required to pay him before the promissory notes came to maturity. Unfortunately for Shannon, the court ruled in the company’s favor by sustaining a statutory demurrer (Pittsburgh Legal Journal. Vol. 72. 1924). Whether or not Shannon ever received any kind of payment, I don’t know. Of course, we can make a reasonable guess.
The next year creditors filed a petition for involuntary bankruptcy claiming that Radium Remedies Company owed them $7,951.81 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 17, 1925). A couple of weeks later, a press notice appeared that McKnight’s Ford touring automobile had been seized and would be put up for auction (Daily News Standard, June 29, 1925). Ouch!
If I were to assign a year to the company’s demise, it would be 1926, the last year the company was listed in the City Directory with both McKnight and McNaugher identified as company officers. While the 1927 directory did include a listing for Radium Remedies Company (with McNaugher as its vice president), neither McNaugher’s nor McKnight’s personal listings mentioned the company.
Also in 1926, Frank Guimaries, charged with false pretense and conspiracy related to the sale of Radium Remedies Company stock, was sentenced to one and one-half to three years in the penitentiary (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dec. 23, 1926). I doubt that Guimaries was a company employee, but the case is indicative of the legal pressure being exerted and the scrutiny the company was under.
The following year (i.e., 1927) McKnight was hit with another lawsuit, but I don’t believe it was related to Radium Remedies Company. William W. Riley initiated legal action against McKnight because the latter had failed to pay Riley some $4,840 in commissions for the sale of stock and bonds in 1922 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Aug. 9, 1927). I suppose Riley should have considered himself lucky that he wasn’t joining Guimaries in the penitentiary. In any event, I believe that the bonds and stocks that Riley sold were for a company linked to the “McKnight Steel Process.” The latter was supposed to
“revolutionize the entire steel making industry... laughed at by steel magnates, the seventy-year old [he was closer to 55] radium expert will build his own mills to prove that steel can be produced in one third time and one half cost by the McKnight method” (Fairfield Daily Ledger Journal May 18, 1922).
In 1935, some ten years after his Radium Remedies Company closed shop, McKnight was president of the Universal Alloy Company. As usual, the law was after him. This time it was for violating the Pennsylvania Securities Act. The law, Deputy Constable Joe Young to be specific, caught up to McKnight who was hiding in his basement (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 19, 1935).
You have to admire him—he was not a man that would be kept down by the weight of the judicial system.
The Radium Remedies Company apparently licensed an operation in Los Angeles, the Radium Remedies Company of California at 826 West Seventh Street (Los Angeles Times. June 14, 1923). This operation probably sold the standard line of Radio-X products. They also operated the Radio-X Medical Institute at 3200 West Sixth Street (a west coast version of the ill-fated Radio-X Sanatoium?)In 1904, a Radium Remedies Company was located at 67 Wabash Avenue in Chicago. They had the distinction of being one of the earliest companies to market “Radium Remedies,” but it is unlikely that their products contained actual radium. These products, which I have not seen described in any detail, were said to cure “Consumption, Cancer, Bright’s Disease, Rheumatism and all forms of (supposedly) incurable diseases” (Strand Magazine ca. 1904).
A different Radium Remedies Company marketed a mouthwash called Pyradium that was supposedly a cure for pyorrhea. They began their operations in Helena, Montana in 1923. One colorful investor was Charles "Red Flag" Taylor, a Montana State senator. He might have called himself a communist/socialist, but he certainly had the taint of capitalism in his blood. Taylor was accused of loaning $40,000 in public monies to Radium Remedies Company. He admitted that he was on the company’s Board of Directors, but he denied that played any management role. The money, he said, had come from the sale of stock (Helena Independent. Dec. 26, 1926). According to Verlaine McDonald (2010), the Radium Remedies Company was once described by an acquaintance of Taylor as
“one of those gyp outfits that had high pressure sales men.”
In 1925, the majority of the company operations and its upper management (e.g., Ed Weiss., J.A. McGlynn and, I believe, “Red Flag” Taylor) moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota although the company continued to market Pyradium from their offices in Montana. Despite considerable internal squabbling (ca. 1926-1928), Radium Remedies Company continued to function and ship product at least until 1932.
The Radium-Active Remedies Company of Pittsburgh had nothing to do with Robert McKnight, but it might well have been inspired by him. They operated from 1928 to 1933 or so, and were located at 7 Federal Street, the same street where McKnight’s Radium Remedies Company once had an office. On July 18, 1932 the Federal Trade Commission ordered them to cease and desist claiming that their products could cure “any diseases, ailments, afflictions or pathologicalÂ conditions of the human body” and to cease and desist any claims that their products were radio or radium-active (unless the company boosted the radium content). The company charter was repealed by the State of Delaware in 1935 since they failed to pay taxes for the previous two years.
- McDonald, V.S. The Rise and Fall of Communism in Northeastern Montana. 1910.
- Miller, A.L. “Personal Reminiscences of the Early History of the Radium Extraction Industry” in the U.S.A. in Health Division Gamma Ray Spectroscopy Group. Argonne National Laboratory. July 1965 through June 1968. ANL 7461.
- Herbert, P.N. God Knows All Your Names. AuthorHouse 2009.
- Product Instructions (insert) No date.
- Radium Develops Asthma Cures. Pittsburgh Press. July 25, 1917
- Radium Rays remedies. Pittsburgh Press. August 8, 1917.
- Radium Works Wonderful Cures. Pittsburgh Press. October 11, 1917
- Advertisement. Pacific Ports. Volume 4. November 1921.