|Fitrite "Radium Outfit".|
I'm not sure what they mean by "radium", but from the standpoint of radioactivity, this kit is as dead as a doornail. It obviously never contained any actual radium.
It is clearly old, and it is clearly marked by the original manufacturer as being a "radium" kit. The seller on eBay was selling it as exactly what it is, and I don't suspect any fraud whatsoever. In fact, I know of at least one other kit with a different brand name also sold as a "radium" outfit, which also contains no radium.
So what's going on? Well, no doubt someone knows this in great detail, but I haven't found them yet. If you know, please tell me!
In the mean time, I have several speculations.
1) It's just a rip-off. There were certainly just as many charlatans 80 years ago as there are today. But it seems unlikely because real radium paint would have been glowing, and any buyer would have seen before buying that the paint was not right.
2) It's from a later period of time and is meant as a radium-like replacement paint. "Radium" being more like a brand name that a description of the contents. The paint is phosphorescent when activated by bright light.
3) It's meant to refresh the phosphor of a radium-hand watch. Radium has a very long half-life (1600 years) but the zinc sulfide phosphors used at the time wear out and the dials lose their luminosity after a few years. Perhaps this paint was meant to be applied over an existing radium watch hand, refreshing the luminosity without actually needing to add any new radium.
After I wrote the above, I was of course informed of a fourth possibility I hadn't considered, by the co-author of a wonderful book about radioactivity:
There were several luminous paints used by watchmakers that contained short-lived isotopes such as promethium-147 and tritium. I don't recall if I have the particular "Radium Outfit" you show on your web page but I have several like it and most do not contain radium. You shouldn't be misled by the word "radium" on these and similar products. There's a section in the book that will give you some idea of the broad use of this word in early products and advertising. My personal rule is that I don't buy anything that "appears" to be hot just from its description unless the seller can verify it with a Geiger counter or will accept a return. So, there's my answer.
Source: eBay seller watchman37
Contributor: Theodore Gray
Acquired: 18 October, 2002