The Case of The Radioactive Toothpaste

May 11, 2023 0 comments

In the late 1943, while the Manhattan project was underway, a team of spies were sent to Europe to gather information about how the Nazis were faring in the development of nuclear technology. Members of the “Alsos mission”, as it was called, soon learned that a German chemical company named Auergesellschaft had been shipping massive supplies of thorium to Germany. The news scared the Allies because it indicated that the German atomic research was further advanced than previously thought, as thorium can be used in an atomic-bomb project only when that project was well into the advanced stage.

Doramad Radioactive Toothpaste. Photo: Museum of Radium

Eventually they captured a representative of the German chemical company, named Herr Doktor Petersen. With him was a suitcase full of documents. The Alsos team was elated. “Here was our own first real Alsos Mission prisoner. We had high hopes that we finally had found somebody who inside information about the German uranium project,” wrote Samuel Goudsmit, a Dutch physicist and a member of Alsos.

Alsos grilled their prime quarry for hours in a hotel room in Paris, but with little success. “Either he was hiding something or he really didn’t know what it was all about,” wrote Goudsmit.

Disappointed by the way the interrogation was proceeding, Goudsmit began studying the numerous documents contained in the suitcase. Petersen, like most Germans, happened to be a very systematic guy who documented each and everything he did during his travels across Europe. A streetcar ticket showed that he had been in Berlin only two weeks before, and a hotel bill showed that he visited the little village of Hechingen in southern Germany, where the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics had been relocated in 1943 to escape bombing.

Alsos was convinced Petersen had went to Hechingen to visit the German nuclear-research project, but Petersen swore he went there only to visit his mother. An enquiry showed that his mother was indeed living in Hechingen.

Not satisfied, Alsos did some more interrogating and studied the papers more carefully. Eventually, their hard work paid off and they discovered the true reason why Auergesellschaft had been shipping their thorium supplies to Germany—to make toothpaste.

Apparently, the company officials had recognized that the war was ending and became concerned that they would no longer be able to make money producing wartime equipment such as gas masks or carbons for searchlights. They concluded that after the war was over, big money was to be made in cosmetics and related consumer products. Officials of Auergesellschaft decided to manufacture thorium infused toothpaste. According to Goudsmit, the company had been “impressed by American methods of advertising,” particularly their promotion of the Pepsodent toothpaste, which was advertised as containing something called “irium.” It was later revealed that there was no such thing as irium. To ensure the success of the venture, the company sought to gain a monopoly on all the thorium they could find in order to produce as much thorium toothpaste as they could, which explained where all of France's thorium went.

Photo: Suit/Wikimedia

The thorium toothpaste which the company manufactured was trademarked as “Doramad Radioactive Toothpaste”. Its radioactive content was promoted as imparting health benefits, including antibacterial action and a contribution to strengthening the “defenses of teeth and gums”.

At that time, the harmful effects of radiation was not fully understood. Radioactivity was often promoted as a cure for all types of illness, which led to many radiation-based medicines and therapies, such as radon-infused drinking water and Radithor, which the unfortunate Ebenezer Byers took for three years until his jaw fell off.

Radioactivity is no longer concerned trivial and many of these ill-advised products have disappeared, but not entirely. According to a report by the BBC published in 2021, Dutch authorities have found a number of “anti-5g protection” necklaces that give off harmful ionizing radiation. These necklaces are popular among anti-5g activists who wear them to fight the harmful radiation of 5g mobile services. What an irony!

Related Stories:
The Radioactive Energy Drink That Kills
The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab
The Shoe Fitting Machines That Blasted You With Radiation
Florida’s Radioactive Fountain of Youth


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