Display Case for Radium Objects Related to the Work of Dr. Marie Curie and Dr. Robert Abbe


Dr. Robert Abbe [b. April 13, 1851; d. March 7, 1928] a surgeon and early proponent of radium therapy, presented this display to the New York Academy of Medicine. It once held a glass ampoule (see 1993.0262.03) that was claimed to contain a remnant of "radium-barium-chloride" obtained from the laboratory of Marie Curie in 1903, another glass ampoule containing "weak radium" (see 1993.0262.02), and two test tubes (see 1993.0262.14 and 1993.0262.15) colored purple from exposure to radium. The radium ampoules (now removed) discolored and burned the paper in the display. In 1993, the New York Academy of Medicine donated this display, along with other objects associated with Abbe's radium work, to the Smithsonian.

In 1903, Dr. Abbe started experimenting with radium on seeds, animals, himself, and patients, becoming one of the first American physicians to do so. He found success in treating some abnormal growths and cancers, publishing his findings and becoming an authority in the field of radiotherapy. Abbe was a surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital in New York. Near the end of his life, Abbe suffered from the effects of aplastic anemia, likely caused by years of radium exposure, requiring regular blood transfusions.

Transcription display front:

"Ashes, with a small remnant of radium recovered from a fireplace after burning surgical dressings...This radium (measuring 1 milligram) is the remnant of the historic 150 milligrams RADIUM-BARIUM-CHLORIDE" SENT by Mme. CURIE TO Dr. ABBE IN 1903. ONE-SEVENTH OF WHAT SHE USED IN CALORIMETRIC TESTS."

"small tube of weak radium 20 milligrammes [sic] strength 200,000. (3 milligrams pure rad. brom.)"

“Amethyst colored glass tubes caused by holding RADIUM and due to oxidization of the manganese in the glass.”

Transcription display back:

"Presented to the Academy of Medicine


Original radium remnants

Radium in tubes estimated strength

as originally received from Mme Curie

was in Comparison with radio activity of Uranium

Uranium 1 _ Radium {200 000

300 000



Later comparisons with pure radium.

Presented by Dr. Robert Abbe"

Abbe, R., “Radium and Radio-Activity," Yale Medical Journal 10 (1904) p. 436-447.

Gibson, C., "Robert Abbe 1851-1928," Annals of Surgery 88 (1928) p. 794-797

Stark, R., "Robert Abbe: Pioneer in Plastic Surgery," Bull. N. Y. Acad. Med. 31 (1955) p. 927-950.

Location: Currently not on view

See more items in: Medicine and Science: Medicine


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of New York Academy of Medicine, through Steven A. Pelovitz, Vice President for Management and Fiscal Affairs

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1993.0262.13Catalog Number: 1993.0262.13Accession Number: 1993.0262

Object Name: Display Casedisplay case, radiumOther Terms: Display Case; Containers

Physical Description: glass (overall material)wood (overall material)brown (overall color)glass (overall material)Measurements: overall, as stored in box: 10 1/2 in x 8 5/16 in x 3/4 in; 26.67 cm x 21.11375 cm x 1.905 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a9-c9b8-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1143158

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