A man by the name of Ebenezer Byers was a famous American Socialite in the 1920s. He was the son of industrialist Alexander Byers, so his life was not short of privaledge and money. One day in 1927 while returning from football game at Yale, he fell out of an upper bunk on his train and hurt his arm.
Despite his access to top doctors, he couldn’t seem to shake the persistent pain that resulted from the injury. That is until he tried a new all-the-rage energy drink at the time.
At the recommendation of a doctor in Pittsburgh, Ebenezer started drinking something called Radithor. This was a patented energy drink like medicine made up of distilled water and just the littlest bit of an element called radium.
As Byers began to take the drink, he felt energized, invigorated and full of energy. His pain faded and he couldn’t stop raving of the miracle cure that was Radithor.
This miracle drink was invented by William Bailey, a Harvard dropout who claimed to be a doctor of medicine. He promoted Radithor as a metabolic stimulant and an aphrodisiac. He went on to claim that the radioactive elements inside stimulated human organs and could prevent adrenal fatigue, cure headaches, diabetes, anemia, constipation, asthma, and more. Just imagine if that’s what monster energy drinks had written on the can…
Radithor came in half-ounce bottles that contained 1 microcurie of radium 228 and radium 226 each.
For just $30 at the time, you could get your hands on a bottle.
Byers believed in this miracle cure so much that he took three bottles a day, every day, until he was about 50.
It was at this age that he started quickly losing weight, getting severe headaches, and his teeth started falling out. Not what you want to happen when you are just looking for some energy.
An X-ray specialist based in Manhattan who had treated people with radium poisoning before immediately recognized Byer’s ailment. The Federal Trade Commission began investigating Radithor.
Although Byers was relatively young at this time, he could barely speak and was covered in bandages. Prior to his diagnosis his entire lower jaw had been removed and he only had two teeth left. All of his tissue was starting to disintegrate and he had holes in his skull.
Six months after the investigation started, Byers died. An autopsy revealed that his kidneys had failed and in his bones were 36 micrograms of radium.
For perspective, 10 micrograms is a fatal dose to humans.
Byers death, being a somewhat famous person at the time, garnered a lot of publicity. The media made him the poster child of the dangers of radium poisoning. Even with all of this, many across the U.S. and the world continued to believe in the healing powers of radium.
Byer’s doctor actually claimed to have drank more Radithor than Ebenezer and claimed it had nothing to do with his death. For the most part though, this fell on deaf ears.
By December of that year, Radithor was banned in the U.S., but no one was ever tried for the death of Byers.
The perplexing story of Radithor and it’s popularity makes it what is likely the deadliest energy drink in all of human history. To think, less than 100 years ago, Doctors thought that ingesting radioactive isotopes could cure you of headaches and other diseases.