Purple Glass Radium Vial

Purple Glass Radium Vial

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This test tube was removed from a display of objects (see 1993.0262.13) donated to the New York Academy of Medicine by Dr. Robert Abbe [b. April 13, 1851; d. March 7, 1928], a surgeon and early proponent of radium therapy. Abbe described this and a similar test tube (1993.0262.14) in the display as, "Amethyst colored glass tubes caused by holding RADIUM and due to oxidization of the manganese in the glass." These tubes were likely clear to begin with. To produce "colorless" glass, manufacturers often added manganese dioxide, which reacted with iron impurities in the sand used to make the glass. This oxidation of iron can be reversed with radiation, returning the manganese to the oxidized state, which will tint glass purple.
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.
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.
Solarized Glass, Corning Museum of Glass (web) https://www.cmog.org/article/solarized-glass
Currently not on view
Object Name
Other Terms
Vial; Container; Vial
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
blue (overall color)
glass (overall material)
estimated from images: 1 13/16 in x 11/32 in; 4.572 cm x.8382 cm
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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