In 1927, Eben Byers started drinking radium-infused water that his doctor had recommended for an arm injury; but, three years later, his bones had started to fall apart.
Eben Byers might have had a comfortable, admirable life. He attended the top schools in the country as the son of a wealthy industrialist, who also gave him a bright future. Eben Byers should have been living the high life after becoming a great golfer, but his jaw fell off instead.
He lived in a period when medicine was far less advanced than it is today, and the recently discovered element radium was one of the most widely used medicinal approaches. Unfortunately for Byers, this procedure was suggested by his doctor after he hurt his arm in 1927.
Byers made headlines when he had “Radithor jaw,” a condition induced on by radium consumption. His exposure to the lethal radioactive material resulted in the complete lower half of his face falling off before his early death from cancer.
This is the horrifying but real account of Eben Byers, whose passing prompted a medical revolution.
The Early Life Of Luxury Of Eben Byers
Eben Byers was born Ebenezer McBurney Byers on April 12, 1880 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was Alexander McBurney Byers. Alexander Byers, according to the Frick Collection, was a financier, art collector, and president of both his own steel company and the National Iron Bank of Pittsburgh.
Growing up with that kind of affluence gave the younger Byers the opportunity to attend the greatest institutions that money could buy, including Yale College and the famous St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire.
But the area in which the young Eben Byers truly shone was in sports. According to the Golf Compendium, Byers won the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship in 1906.
Byers’ father eventually appointed his son chairman of the A. M. Byers Company, one of the biggest wrought iron manufacturers in America. Young Byers was unfortunately soon put on the unfortunate path to an early death by a fatal accident.
The radioactive drug that left Eben Byers’ jaw deformed is called Radithor.
Eben Byers was returning home from the yearly Yale-Harvard football game in November 1927 when the train he was on abruptly came to a stop. The Allegheny Cemetery Heritage claims that he injured his arm after falling from his berth.
Radithor, a drug created by dissolving radium in water, was prescribed to him by his physician, C. C. Moyer. Nobody knew that exposure to radioactive material at high enough levels may result in genetic alterations and cancer until the mid-1920s. Radithor thus immediately gained popularity after being developed by Harvard dropout William J. Bailey.
There is a claim that Bailey misrepresented himself as a doctor and even provided doctors with a 17 percent discount on each bottle of Radithor they recommended.
Byers drank up to three bottles of Radithor each day, taking as many as 1,400 doses of the radium water over the course of three years. Eben Byers said that Radithor gave him a “toned-up” feeling between 1927 and 1930, but some accounts indicate he may have used it for more obscene purposes.
According to the Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity, Byers’ Yale classmates referred to him as “Foxy Grandpa” because of his ways with women. As he neared his late 40s, the Radithor restored his renowned libido.
Radithor Jaw’s Terrifying Effects
Eben Byers had tremendous weight loss and frequent migraines in 1931, so when his jaw started to fall out, he was ready for a shock of a lifetime. Byers appeared hideous, his bones and tissue crumbling from the inside out. But in a weird act of mercy, the radium poisoning had the added benefit of rendering him completely painless.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had already started looking into Radithor as a potentially harmful medicine by the time Eben Byers’ jaw started to fall out and he started experiencing other horrifying side effects. The CIA wanted Byers to testify, but he was too sick, so they sent Robert Winn, an attorney, to question him at his Long Island estate.
A more horrible event in a more beautiful place would be difficult to imagine, Winn later penned. The majority of [Byers’] lower jaw and all of his top jaw, save for two front teeth, had been amputated. His entire body was deteriorating, and holes were even starting to appear in his cranium.
Byers passed away on March 31, 1932, at the age of 51. His cause of death was given as “radium poisoning,” although he actually passed away from the cancer Radithor caused him to grow. He was buried in a lead-lined coffin to stop radiation from leaking into the soil since his corpse had so much radium that even his breath was radioactive.
The FTC quickly closed down Bailey’s business, according to the New York Times, however Bailey later asserted he ceased selling Radithor because the Great Depression had decreased demand for the drug. As Bailey’s was by no means the only company selling radium-based “medicines” at the time, the authorities also started cracking down on similar operations.
After Byers’ passing, Bailey defended his invention by asserting, “I have consumed more radium water than any man living and I have never had any negative effects.” Later, bladder cancer claimed his life.
Eventually, the FDA and FTC were given more authority, and the regulation of pharmaceuticals was greatly tightened.