Eben Byers (Eben McBurney Byers)

Eben Byers

The son of industrialist Alexander Byers, Eben Byers was educated at St. Paul’s School and Yale College, where he earned a reputation as an athlete and ladies’ man. He was the U.S. Amateur golf champion of 1906, after finishing runner-up in 1902 and 1903. Byers eventually became the chairman of the Girard Iron Company, which had been created by his father.  In 1927, while returning via chartered train from the annual Harvard–Yale football game, Byers fell from his berth and injured his arm. He complained of persistent pain and a doctor suggested that he take Radithor, a patent medicine manufactured by William J. A. Bailey. Bailey was a Harvard University dropout who falsely claimed to be a doctor of medicine and became rich from the sale of Radithor. Bailey created Radithor by dissolving radium in water to high concentrations, claiming it could cure many ailments by stimulating the endocrine system. He offered physicians a 17% rebate on the prescription of each dose of Radithor.  Byers began taking enormous doses of Radithor, which he believed had greatly improved his health, drinking nearly 1,400 bottles. By 1930, when Byers stopped taking the remedy, he had accumulated significant amounts of radium in his bones resulting in the loss of most of his jaw. Byers’ brain was also abscessed, and holes were forming in his skull. His death on March 31, 1932, was attributed to “radiation poisoning” using the terminology of the time, but it was due to cancers, not acute radiation syndrome. He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a lead-lined coffin.

Due to Byers’ prominence, his death received much publicity. The Wall Street Journal ran a headline reading “The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off” after his death. His illness and eventual death also led to a heightened awareness of the dangers of ingesting radioactive materials, and to the adoption of laws that increased the powers of the FDA.  William Bailey was never tried for Byers’ death, although the Federal Trade Commission issued an order against his business. However this did not stop Bailey from trading in radioactive products. He later founded a new company – “Radium Institute”, in New York – and marketed a radioactive belt-clip, a radioactive paperweight, and a mechanism which made water radioactive.

Born

  • April, 12, 1880
  • USA
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Died

  • March, 31, 1932
  • USA
  • Manhattan, New York

Cause of Death

  • cancer

Cemetery

  • Allegheny Cemetery
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • USA

6403 profile views