|Madame Marie Curie in her laboratory (public domain)|
|On one of her two trips to the U.S.|
|The Cabin Madame Curie stayed in during her Temple Mountain visit|
In 1921 the U.S. was holding a ceremony to "honor a discovery and the discoverer" and gifting Madame Curie with a gram of radium for her work. Professor R.A. Millikan gave a speech on the "Significance of Radium" and explained that discovering radium was like finding a needle in a haystack. He said to get a gram of radium (worth $100,000) "... it took 500 tons of Colorado carnotite ore (Temple Mountain is part of the Colorado Plateau.), which possesses 2% of uranium, and to treat it with 500 tons of chemicals" (Millikan).
So it took a lot of mining, muscle, and sweat to get a little radium.
|Temple Mountain Panorama. See the mining camps along the bottom of the ridge 1912 (courtesy USGS)|
|Wyatt Bryan, Joe Swasey and others mining vanadium in early 1900s.|
Monte's father Royal Swasey went out to Temple Mountain in 1916 to mine uranium. He described the process as "looking for a tree."
|Royal and Eva Swasey and children about the time he worked at Temple Mountain|
The Swasey Family donated the letters that Royal and his wife Eva wrote back and forth to each other through those years of mining and other times when they were separated. The Archives is very privileged to have such a great source of history! In them we find that one evening while he was at Temple Mountain, he wrote to Eva and told her that he had just bagged 150 bags of ore. He was tired and sick with a sore throat and aches because of handling all of that ore. In the next letter he told her that he had tested his bathwater after handling the evening he had written that letter, and it tested at 1.5% uranium. Eva wrote back and said that she had tested the letter he had sent that day, and it had tested at 2 %!
Madame Curie is said to have usually carried a piece of ore in her pocket to show to others. At the time neither she, nor others realized how many symptoms and health problems stemmed from radiation exposure. It was called "Nature's Wonder Element" because it seemed to be the cure for so many problems, including facial skin problems. It was put into shampoo powders and beauty cream to "replace old tired cells;" it was in hair tonic and toothpaste to whiten teeth; it was even put into yarn for baby clothes --" O-Radium Wool provided a precious source of heat and vital energy." [Curie, Dry] The "glow in the dark" properties made it great for watches and clocks and other things that needed to be seen in darkness. Women learned to use paintbrushes in a twisting method, holding the brushes in their mouths. This was a learned technique and an art form to make dials on watch faces.
Madame Curie's notebooks used to record her experiments are considered too radioactive to safely view, after all these years! They are preserved in a lead box, and a person must sign a release form before handling them. She died at the age of 64 from Leukemia. She suffered many other forms of radiation poisoning from all her years of handling the ore.She literally gave her life to her research.She is a legendary figure, having been the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize and not just once, but twice! She broke new ground for women in science and other professional and academic areas. And here in Emery County she is kept alive-- by facts and folklore! She may be Polish by blood and French by her residence and research, but here on the Utah desert we claim her. She even slept here!
P.S. In writing this and thinking about that letter--Royal's letter that tested at 2%--I think I'll have it checked...
- Robert Andrew Millikan "The Significance of Radium," published in Science and the New Civilization, C. Scribner's Sons, 1930.
- Sarah Dry, Curie, Hughes Publishing Limited, London, 2003
- Emery County Archives Oral Histories and Collections