Celluloid Vial Used for Radium Therapy

Celluloid Vial Used for Radium Therapy

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
Dr. Robert Abbe [b. April 13, 1851; d. March 7, 1928], a surgeon and early proponent of radiotherapy, used celluloid (an early plastic) tubes to apply radium to his patients. A report on the Third International Congress of Physiotherapy, described Abbe's use of these tubes:
"Dr. Abbe of New York has a very ingenious method of introducing radium into the substance of a tumour. After opening up the tumour he makes and incision into its substance and inserts a number of celluloid tubes about the size of a clinical thermometer. These are in different parts of the tumour, but all converge towards the centre. The wound is then closed, leaving the ends of the celluloid tubes protruding. It is easy then to introduce the glass radium capsule into each tube successively, and retain it there as long as desired. The celluloid tube obviates any danger of haemorrhage, and can be easily withdrawn after the irradiation is completed, since the radium appears to have an elective action on the interior of blood vessels and speedily arrests all haemorrhage."
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.
“Third International Congress of Physiotherapy,” Archives of the Roentgen Ray 15 (1910) p. 74
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
vial, radium therapy
Other Terms
Vial; Containers; Vials
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
yellow (overall color)
cellulose nitrate (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
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object