Radium Hourglass Commemorating the Work of Dr. Marie Curie

Radium Hourglass Commemorating the Work of Dr. Marie Curie

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This hourglass is part of an accession of objects connected with Dr. Robert Abbe [b. April 13, 1851; d. March 7, 1928], a surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital in New York. Abbe admired Marie Curie’s work and obtained radium produced in the Curie laboratory in 1903. That same year, he 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 among the physicians and scientists that celebrated Curie when she visited the United States in 1921 to receive a gift of radium from the Women of America – a campaign that journalist Marie Mattingly Meloney organized and ran after learning that Curie had trouble affording a supply of the element she had discovered.
According to a 1938 letter written by the sister-in-law of Ms. May Moon, Abbe's long-time assistant, "The hourglass is a replica of one presented to Madame Curie in 1921 when the women of America presented her with 1000mg of radium. So large a quantity of radium could not be handled so Dr. Abbe had two beautifully made hourglasses by Tiffany and Co filled with luminous material and at the formal ceremony in Washington, one of these was handed to Madame Curie and the other to Pres. and Mrs. Harding. Dr. Abbe conceived this beautiful and practical idea."
One of the two hourglasses presented during the White House ceremony was found at the Warren G. Harding Presidential Home in Marion, Ohio in 2001. It was subsequently transferred to the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oakridge, Tennessee. The Harding hourglass has three thin smooth spindles, while this Abbe hourglass – the replica (or model) for the two presentation pieces for Harding and Curie – has figured spindles. The glass was tinted purple by radiation.
Pierre et Marie Curie. Papiers. II — PAPIERS ET CORRESPONDANCE. CII-CVII Marie Curie. Correspondance et documents concernant ses voyages. CIII Voyage aux États-Unis. (1921) http://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cc7376q/cd0e41453
Colleli, J. and Webb Sr., J, “Handling a radioactive historical artifact,” Newsbrief of the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, Inc., December (2001) p. 15 -19. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.crcpd.org/resource/collection/F2F0F5FD-D4E9-4278-8788-BD5B1F41827A/December%202001.pdf
Helen J. Moon correspondence in the accession file 1993.0262 of the National Museum of American History.
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.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Pharmaceutical, Hour Glass of
hourglass, radium
Other Terms
Pharmaceutical, Hour Glass of; Pharmaceutical; Powder
associated place
France: Île-de-France, Paris
Physical Description
radium (overall material)
blue (overall color)
brown (overall color)
glass (overall material)
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of New York Academy of Medicine, through Steven A. Pelovitz, Vice President for Management and Fiscal Affairs
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Pharmacy
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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