The Strange Story of Eben Byers, Who Drank Radium Until His Jaw Fell Off

Last updated on July 21st, 2022 at 09:17 pm

Eben Byers was a wealthy American businessman who became famous in the early 1930s after ingesting large amounts of Radium or Radithor. 

What is Radium, and what does it do? It is a radioactive element discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre.

When ingested, it can cause severe health problems, including cancer. Eben Byers’ story is a tragic one and serves as a warning to us all about the dangers of radiation poisoning.

Eben Byers

Who Was Eben Byers?

Eben Byers was born in April of 1880 to a wealthy family. His background afforded him many opportunities, and he was able to graduate from Yale University.

 Eben was also an established athlete and won many Golf championships in the early 1900s. Not long after that, his father made him president of his company, Girard Iron Company.

Eben had everything going for him in life until 1927. Then, during one of his matches, he injured his arm and was in a lot of pain. A medic recommended that Eben try Radithor, a new “miracle cure” at the time, and had many supposed benefits. 

Eben Byers Golfing

The doctor prescribed him a small spoon per day for the pain. Eben enjoyed pain relief for a short time and reportedly felt great. He felt so great that he self-medicated and increased his dose rapidly, taking a whole bottle at a time.

At the time, Radithor wasn’t regulated, and officials were unaware of any ill effects of radiation on the human body. But unfortunately, Eben would learn about his deadly mistake.

The History of Radithor

Radithor was a radioactive drink containing Radium patented by William J.A. Bailey, a Harvard dropout. In the early 1900s, this became very popular. 

It was said to have health benefits, and many people began to drink it. Bailey created this “cure-all” by dissolving radioactive isotopes of Radium into distilled water. He claimed that the concoction would cure impotence and other ailments.

At the time, Bailey offered doctors a 17% commission on every dose prescribed to patients. 

Eben Byers’ Decline

The steel mogul trusted Radithor so much that he increased his dose by drinking approximately 1,400 bottles of the drink during the time he used it.

In addition, Eben sent the product to his business colleagues and girlfriends so they could also enjoy the benefits. 

Unfortunately, Radium became very harmful as regulators soon realized it was already doing terrible things to Eben’s body.

After years of drinking Radithor, Eben Byers started to experience severe health problems. His teeth began to fall out, he had trouble speaking, and he felt pain all over his body. 

Concerned for his health, the former athlete told his doctor about sudden weight loss and headaches. Much to his dismay, Eben mentioned that he wasn’t feeling like himself and didn’t feel like the young man he used to be.

It turns out that what was happening to Eben and anyone else who ingested Radithor was horrifying than anyone could have imagined. 

When he stopped taking the radioactive water supplement, the FDA realized that radiation was not beneficial to the human body and was causing terrible side effects like cancer.

 Soon, Radithor users suffered from “Radium poisoning” and various illnesses due to the drink. By the time Eben stopped taking Radithor, he had consumed more than three times the lethal dose of Radium.

The Unfortunate Results of Eben’s Radithor Regimen

Eben Byers was one of the most public cases of Radium poisoning. As his health continued to decline, he became a national headline. People were fascinated by his story and followed his every move. 

Of the notable adverse effects Radium had on Eben, the worst was the loss of his entire lower jaw and most of his upper jaw. This condition became known as “Radium Jaw.” 

The bones in the rest of his body were also deteriorating, disintegrating while he was still alive. Eben even developed holes in his skull and abscesses in his brain.

His condition was so bad that his tissue was surgically removed, leaving the hole in his head open. Eben received his terminal diagnosis weeks before he passed. 

The steel tycoon was bedridden for the last years and suffered a slow and painful end on March 31, 1932, at 51. Eben’s autopsy revealed that his body was filled with cancerous tumors and his bones were so brittle that they easily broke.

The FDA Cracks Down on William Bailey

While Eben Byer’s end was tragic, it did help to raise awareness about the dangers of radiation. 

After Eben’s passing, the FDA finally took action and shut down William Bailey and his company. They seized all of his products and warned the public about the dangers of Radithor.

Despite this development, Radium sales had worked out well for Bailey. So he started another company that sold radium products, such as devices that allowed people to make their radioactive water at home. 

Despite the growing concerns about the ill effects of radiation-based products, Companies still sold radium-based products until the 1980s.

Researchers Exhume Eben Byers

In 1965, almost 35 years after Eben Byers passed, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh exhumed his body to study the effects of Radium on human remains. 

During the study, they concluded that despite the time that had passed, Eben’s remains were still highly radioactive and dangerous, which is why it was fortunate that he was buried in a lead-lined coffin. Unfortunately, radiation will likely continue to affect his remains for centuries.

The moral of the story is to be cautious about what you put into your body, no matter how safe it may seem. If you’re ever unsure about a supplement, it’s always best to consult with a doctor or medical professional first. 

It’s also essential to stay up-to-date on the latest research to ensure you’re not unknowingly putting yourself in danger.

It’s also crucial to remember that “cure-alls” don’t exist and that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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