How American Women “Kickstarted” a Campaign to Give Marie Curie a Gram of Radium, Raising $120,000 in 1921

Image by Bib­lio­thèque nationale de France, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Marie Curie has a place in his­to­ry because of her research on radioac­tiv­i­ty, of course, but a look into her biog­ra­phy reveals anoth­er area she had a part in pio­neer­ing: crowd­fund­ing. It hap­pened in 1921, 23 years after she dis­cov­ered radi­um and a decade after she won the Nobel Prize in Chem­istry (her sec­ond Nobel, the first being the Physics prize, shared with her hus­band Pierre and physi­cist Hen­ri Bec­quer­el in 1903). The pre­vi­ous year, writes Ann M. Lewic­ki in the jour­nal Radi­ol­o­gy, an Amer­i­can reporter by the name of Marie Mel­oney had land­ed a rare inter­view with Curie, dur­ing which the famed physi­cist-chemist admit­ted her great­est desire: “some addi­tion­al radi­um so that she could con­tin­ue her lab­o­ra­to­ry research.”

It seems that “she who had dis­cov­ered radi­um, who had freely shared all infor­ma­tion about the extrac­tion process, and who had giv­en radi­um away so that can­cer patients could be treat­ed, found her­self with­out the finan­cial means to acquire the expen­sive sub­stance.” Radi­um no longer exists in its pure form now, and even in 1921 it was, to quote Back to the Future’s Doc Brown on plu­to­ni­um, a lit­tle hard to come by: it cost $100,000 per gram back then, which’s Kat Eschn­er esti­mates at “about $1.3 mil­lion today.”

The solu­tion arrived in the form of the Marie Curie Radi­um Fund, launched by Mel­oney and con­tributed to by numer­ous female aca­d­e­mics, who raised more than half the full sum in less than a year. And so in 1921, as the Nation­al Insti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nol­o­gy tells it, “Marie Curie made her first vis­it to the Unit­ed States accom­pa­nied by her two daugh­ters Irène and Eve.” They vis­it­ed, among oth­er places, the Radi­um Refin­ing Plant in Pitts­burgh and the White House, where she received her gram of radi­um from Pres­i­dent War­ren Hard­ing. “The haz­ardous source itself was not brought to the cer­e­mo­ny,” the NIST has­tens to add. “Instead, she was pre­sent­ed with a gold­en key to the cof­fer and a cer­tifi­cate.”

The real stuff went back on the ship to Paris with her. As for that extra $56,413.54 pro­to-crowd­fund­ed by the Marie Curie Radi­um Fund, it even­tu­al­ly went on to sup­port the Marie Curie Fel­low­ship, first award­ed in 1963 to sup­port a French or Amer­i­can woman study­ing chem­istry, physics, or radi­ol­o­gy. Giv­en the costs of inno­v­a­tive research in those fields today, Curie’s intel­lec­tu­al descen­dants might have a hard time fund­ing their work on, say, Kick­starter, but they have only to remem­ber what hap­pened when she ran out of radi­um to remind them­selves of the untapped sup­port poten­tial­ly all around them.

via The Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Lau­re­ate

Marie Curie Attend­ed a Secret, Under­ground “Fly­ing Uni­ver­si­ty” When Women Were Banned from Pol­ish Uni­ver­si­ties

Marie Curie Invent­ed Mobile X‑Ray Units to Help Save Wound­ed Sol­diers in World War I

Marie Curie’s Research Papers Are Still Radioac­tive 100+ Years Lat­er

New Archive Puts 1000s of Einstein’s Papers Online, Includ­ing This Great Let­ter to Marie Curie

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • KS says:

    did your busi­ness’s know-now that in some area’s states courts only keep papers for legal name changes or decree of annull­ments for five years then dis­card them like in bell coun­ty

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