Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Ads You’re Not Going to See Again Anytime Soon – Chapter 7

Ads You’re Not Going to See Again Anytime Soon – Chapter 7

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 26, 2008

The dear old time Relief Society, caring for the health of the people … champions of the Word of Wisdom … trainers of professional nurses … purveyors of electrical belts and radioactive water jugs …
















  1. Wow, Radiated Water? I would think that the water held in the jar would be sterile and thus you might understand why it improved the health of those who drank it. But how did it change the health of those who stood next to the jar?

    Comment by BruceC — September 26, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

  2. I had never hear of this before. So out of curiousity I looked around and found this website. Interesting.

    Comment by BruceC — September 26, 2008 @ 12:23 pm


    Comment by Steve Evans — September 26, 2008 @ 12:40 pm


    As Steve said, awesome.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 26, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  5. My good buddy Josiah F. Gibbs (1845-1932) was so enamored of the possibilities of radium that he wrote an editorial about how in the future a single piece of radium would be suspended over each city, providing constant light so bright that we would don sunglasses in order to go to sleep.

    Great find, BruceC; that really explains what was going on here.

    The radium ads, by the way, date to 1927; the electrical cure-all to 1914; and the lithium water to 1904 (1904 = Juvenile Instructor; all others, Relief Society Magazine).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  6. Interesting to see that in one of the ads, no one was actually “cured” of their old age by Radon water. Too bad about that. I am assuming that the 26 not benefited abruptly quit using the Radon Water Jar, usually without warning?

    Comment by kevinf — September 26, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  7. abruptly quit using the Radon Water Jar, usually without warning?


    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2008 @ 1:41 pm

  8. “…blessed by the great Mormon disciple, Brigham Young”

    BY seemed to be a fan of mineral water, whether he was endorsing the Great Manitou liniment or officially commenting upon and blessing Idan-ha spring water.

    Comment by Justin — September 26, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

  9. I’m too young to remember any of these products (duh!) but there were public baths in Japan in the mid-1970s which, in addition to the main bath filled with water hot enough to peel the hide off your body, had side pools which featured electricity and radium (?). I never tried the latter, but the former was interesting. It gave me the sense that I was being slowly electrocuted. I didn’t stay long. Kimochi warui, as the Japanese would say.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 26, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

  10. I wonder–all those people who used the Radio-Active pad (over 150,000); did they show elevated numbers of cancer in the lower abdomin? And if Dr. Sigmund Saubermann of Berlin, Germany, tells me radioactive water is healthy, then I’m on my way down to Wal*Mart to pick some up.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 26, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  11. Yum, radioactive water!

    Comment by BHodges — September 26, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  12. Wow. I’d say people used be crazy, but that would imply that they aren’t any more. Just the other day I ran into an article/ad that recommended “zapping” yourself with a low electrical current to kill parasites prior to engaging in some form of a cleanse. Um. I think not.

    Comment by Jami — September 26, 2008 @ 3:11 pm

  13. Radioactive water . . . radioactive water . . . radioactive water

    Nope, it still doesn’t sound better even after repeated utterance.

    Comment by Ray — September 26, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

  14. I know it isn’t the same but there are some types of food that are irradiated today to kill all bacteria. Most prevalent are bottled spices, but some ground meats, and even fresh fruits are irradiated too. It isn’t the same thing, but, well, there it is.

    Comment by BruceC — September 26, 2008 @ 7:29 pm

  15. wha!!

    Comment by sister blah 2 — September 26, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

  16. On my mission I was always fascinated by the fact that bottled water in Brazil always listed how radioactive the source of the water was. Usually it was either weakly radioactive or very weakly radioactive.

    Comment by a random John — September 26, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

  17. Take a little wine for your stomach, Timothy.

    And a little radium for your rheumatism.

    Comment by The Right Trousers — September 27, 2008 @ 2:43 am

  18. Holy quackery, batman!

    Give us the years for these ads, please, they’re gems as usual.

    Comment by jeans — September 27, 2008 @ 6:16 am

  19. Oh, you did, in #5 sorry. Thanks for posting these! I wonder what the Ardis Parshall heir in 2076 will post about our times as far as wacky health & healing ideas among early 21st century Mormons…

    Comment by jeans — September 27, 2008 @ 6:18 am

  20. Re #19 Chemotherapy & radiation therapy for cancer. And other drugs whose side effects are almost as bad as the problem they are trying to solve. Statins for cholesterol. Narcotics for ADHD. We take a pill for everything. The drug companies are pushing them. And some physicians are complicit. Can anyone say Brave New World?

    …..Sorry, I’ll stop ranting now.

    Comment by BruceC — September 27, 2008 @ 8:30 am

  21. 19. The Heir of Ardis? That sounds so…um…so…Harry Potterish.

    20. Someone I know had a similar reaction to these ads (first thought was of chemotherapy, in which the cure can be as bad or worse than a disease). Back in the 1950s mustard gas (the chemical warfare agent) was the first form of chemotherapy.

    My answer, however, to jeans’ question would be all the herbals marketed so heavily among certain segments of the population. Their advertisement and formulation are more similar to these ads than most modern pharmaceuticals, the advertisement of which is very heavily regulated.

    Comment by Researcher — September 27, 2008 @ 8:58 am

  22. “Simpsons” moment:

    Grampa: “Ooh! Put some Lister’s Carbolic Unguent on a wad of cotton, put the cotton it in her ear. That’ll stop them shakes.”
    Jackie: “No, no. What she needs is a Balsam Specific.”
    Grampa: “A Balsam Specific?! Oh! While we’re burning money, why don’t we give her a Curative Galvanic Belt too.”
    Bart: “Don’t forget to give her Smeckler’s Powder.”
    Grampa and Jackie: “Don’t make fun!”

    Comment by Phouchg — September 27, 2008 @ 8:59 am

  23. One more comment separately. Someone who was reading this post over my shoulder noted that Ardis said “lithium water” in #5. But in the ad it says “lithia water.” Based on some quick google research, they are the same thing.

    Lithium is still one of the standard effective treatments for bipolar disorder. Among all the many things that have been said about Brigham Young, I’ve never seen any claims or insinuations that he suffered from mood swings. I’m sure the Juvenile Instructor didn’t realize what it seems like their advertiser was suggesting.

    Comment by Researcher — September 27, 2008 @ 9:08 am

  24. ha! “The Heir of Ardis” sounds like a vaguely ominous late-night movie, don’t you think? Cue music …

    Like you, Researcher, I’m betting so-called “natural” supplements will be in “Chapter 24,388” of the Ads series, and like you, Bruce, I don’t think it will take that long for Ritalin&Co. to be on the list. I’ll add diets that restrict milk, wheat and honey in the name of carbohydrate- , fat- , and sugar-freedom.

    Thanks for catching the lithium/lithia thing, too. It’s a typo I shouldn’t have made, after writing a biography of Josiah Francis Gibbs who had his own little sideline of bottling Deseret Lithia Water. But I don’t think he ever claimed that Brigham the Disciple blessed it. (That’s so obviously not a Mormon copy writer that I marvel the JI ever accepted the claim or the ad!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 27, 2008 @ 9:52 am

  25. Sorry, Ardis, I didn’t say that very tactfully! What I meant to say was that your saying “lithium” in the comment raised the question of whether there really was lithium in lithia water, radium in a radioactive belt, and just a little bit of googling showed that yes, there most likely was.

    In the case of the lithium, one would have had the huge problem of not being able to control the dose.

    In the case of radium, the wikipedia article made special mention of the radioactive baths in Japan, as did one of the comments earlier in this discussion. The most famous of these spas in Misasa, Japan, holds a yearly Marie Curie Festival to honor the woman who discovered radium. (Of course it also killed her…details, details.)

    Comment by Researcher — September 27, 2008 @ 1:12 pm

  26. Bruce linked to a website in #2 that included a reference to radium dial painters without explanation. I remembered hearing something about that and went hunting — there’s plenty out there; google “Radium girls” if you want to know more.

    The gist is that by the time these jugs were being marketed, scientists already knew what radioactivity did to the living body. They took care not to expose themselves, but ordinary industrial workers, most often women because of their smaller hands and endurance of tedium, were not told of the danger when they were hired to apply paint — made luminous in the dark by the addition of powdered radium — to various objects, including the dials of watches and airplane instruments. The tick marks on such dials were of course very fine lines and needed to be painted with a sharp brush. After painting a few strokes, the hairs of the artist’s brush would separate, and to sharpen its point again the painter would lick the bristles or roll the brush between her lips. Sometimes the young women would also paint their nails or use the paint as eyeliner as a jokey surprise for their boyfriends.

    Management and their scientific staffs knew what the girls were doing, and knew what the consequences would be, but never warned them. After a years-long hunt for an attorney willing to help them, some of the girls sued, successfully, and set precedents for some of the workplace safety measures that we benefit from.

    No mention of radium water jugs in what I read about the dial painters.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 27, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

  27. BruceC, #14 and #20. First food is irradiated with gamma rays and the radiation doesn’t persist. Radium is an alpha emitter that when ingested replaces calcium in the bones and causes damage that leads to cancer.

    Further, while you may want to eschew chemotherapy if you have cancer, it is demonstrably efficacious. The things people will laugh at in the future will be any number of herbal remedies, magnetic bracelets and pyramid schemes like those promoting exotic fruit juices as cure-alls. Nobody prescribes narcotics for ADHD, they prescribe stimulants like Ritilan; and while also efficacious, they are most certainly over-prescribed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 27, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

  28. I don’t think I would turn down chemotherapy if I developed cancer. But I do think future generations will marvel at how primative our treatments were.

    I don’t have any herbal remedies, magnetic bracelets, crystal cures, or exotic fruit juice in my house. I agree these are better examples of modern quackery.

    I have turned down statins. Imagine this dialogue.
    Doc: I want you to take this to lower your LDL.
    Me: But it says on here it doesn’t lower the risk of heart disease.
    Doc: Yes, but it will lower your LDL.
    Me: And that is bad because?
    Doc: High LDL is associated with heart disease.
    Me: So if the ultimate goal is the lower my risk of heart disease, shouldn’t I take something that does that?

    Comment by BruceC — September 27, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

  29. Well, I can’t contribute anything to a serious discussion on lithium or radioactivity. But I do wish Pres. Monson would “officially comment upon and bless” the correct kind of water for me to drink. Then I wouldn’t have to wonder if Dasani or Arrowhead is a better remedy for sleeping in church.

    Comment by Meghan — September 28, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

  30. These are great, Ardis.

    And Jami (12), you may have been talking to my in-laws. They subscribe to exactly that theory, and offer all sorts of medical advice on a regular basis.

    Comment by Kaimi — September 29, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  31. […] historian first class, Ardis Parshall shares some rather disturbing old Utah newspaper clippings proclaiming the wonders of radioactive water for your health.  […]

    Pingback by Points of Interest, #32 « Mind, Soul, and Body — October 3, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

  32. in that 2nd image, I see the lady has the radioactive pad strapped on her back, but what on earth is that in her hand? Was it meant to strike me as sexual symbolism?

    Comment by cchrissyy — January 9, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  33. I think it’s the side view of a hand-held mirror, cchrissyy.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 9, 2009 @ 10:03 am

  34. hmmm, ok :)

    Comment by cchrissyy — January 9, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  35. Ardis, WHERE do you FIND all of this great stuff?! Love it.

    Congrats – MormonTimes linked to this post today.

    Comment by MoSop — January 12, 2010 @ 11:49 am

  36. Really? They linked to a year-old post? I’ll have to go look for it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 12, 2010 @ 11:51 am

  37. [Noting the recent activity relating to this post I took another look. I love how I can make a comment on a long dormant thread like this. The conversation goes on forever!]

    Re #29: I don’t think it matters much what the brand is. It is more how it is administered. I think the best results would come from topical application-say a whole bottle, ice-cold right over the head. That will get you awake!

    Comment by Eric Boysen — January 12, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

  38. That’s what’s so great about talking about the past, Eric; it’s still as current today as it was last year!

    I saw an Antiques Roadshow recently where a collector showed a radium water jar. There really must be quite a radioactive punch to them — he said that some states regulate the ownership of such jars.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 12, 2010 @ 8:11 pm