The leaden box and the gram of radium

In 1921, Marie Curie along with her two daughters, Irene and Eve, went to the United States to receive a present offered thanks to a subscription of American women, during a ceremony at the White House: one gram of radium worth $ 100,000. Of this present, only the leaden box in mahogany and the golden key were kept.

Closed lead box which had contained a gram of radium (1921) by Alexandre Lescure / Musée CurieMusée Curie

The leaden box

It is through a national subscription among American women that the radium was offered to Marie Curie. May 21st, 1921, the US President, Warren G. Harding, symbolically handed to the scholar a golden key to the box, marked with the name of the White House. Marie Curie went to the Standard Chemical Company a few days later to receive the gram of radium. The leaden box in mahogany, with a weight of 46 kg, is made of two metals: one ornamental, engraved with inscriptions, the other lead, to limit radiation. This lead shielding is not thick enough to stop all the radiation from a gram of radium.

Opened lead box which had contained a gram of radium, Alexandre Lescure / Musée Curie, 1921, From the collection of: Musée Curie
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Metal plate placed on the lead box, Sacha Lenormand / Musée Curie, 1921, From the collection of: Musée Curie
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Lead lid of the box that contained the gram of radium, Sacha Lenormand / Musée Curie, 1921, From the collection of: Musée Curie
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Opened leaded box that contained the gram of radium, top view, Source : Musée Curie, 1921, From the collection of: Musée Curie
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Honorary key of the leaded box containing the gram of radium, Sacha Lenormand / Musée Curie, 1921, From the collection of: Musée Curie
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Lead and mahogany cabinet in the office of Marie Curie, during the 1960's, Source : Musée Curie (coll. Institut du radium), Années 1960, From the collection of: Musée Curie
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Facimile of the gram of radium brought back by Marie Curie in 1921 (1921) by Sacha Lenormand / Musée CurieMusée Curie

The gram of radium

The gram of radium offered to Marie Curie in 1921 was used during her research in the laboratory and in the development of radiotherapy at the Curie Foundation by Doctor Regaud. The remains of the radium have since been disposed of as radioactive waste, following the ban on its use and possession in the 1970s. Therefore, the Musée Curie displays a copy of the tubes which contained the radium, such as they are described in the certificate which accompanied the gift.

Certificate of radioactive material delivered by the Radium Chemical Company of Pittsburgh, Source : Musée Curie, 1921-06-22, From the collection of: Musée Curie
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"Radium will" written by Marie Curie in March 1934 (1934-03-25) by Marie Curie / Musée CurieMusée Curie

The “Radium will”

Because of its rarity and high demand, radium had become the most expensive material in the world: in equal mass, it was worth more than diamond. One gram of radium costed $ 100,000 at the time (a bit less than 2 million euros in 2018). Worried of transmitting this precious material, Marie Curie decided, a few months before her death in 1934, to make a will on the future of this gram of radium after her death. She bequeathed it, by a signed document, to the University of Paris, under condition that her daughter Irène could continue to use it.

Credits: Story

Conception : Musée Curie
Photographie 2012 : Alexandre Lescure, Institut Curie et Sacha Lenormand
Photographies anciennes : collection ACJC, Musée Curie

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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