Polonio-dent, the Miracle Tooth Whitener! With Polonium-210®

This is just a quick cross-link, I haven’t got much to add, because it’s already weirder than I can make it. [atlas]

According to Goudsmit, Auer had been “impressed by American methods of advertising,” including Bob Hope’s endorsement of Pepsodent toothpaste, which was advertised as including something called “irium.” There is, it was later revealed, no such thing as irium. Auer-Gessellschaft, like many companies at the time, was trying to get in on the craze for all things radioactive—including cosmetics. “In Germany, it would be thorium, the scientific toothpaste!” writes Goudsmit. [atlas]

When I was a kid, my dad and I watched a bunch of the old Buck Rogers movies, including one where there was a giant air ship powered by stokers shovelling radium from big hoppers into furnaces – just like coal. Because radium was new stuff, it invited speculation, but the limits of the director’s imagination couldn’t get past “just like today’s ships, only they fly” and replacing coal with radium.

Something new gets adopted into the popular culture in weird hypothetical ways. When radiation was new, you might want radioactive toothpaste or cuisine. When nuclear weapons were new, we had atomic-engined spacecraft (in science fiction) and now that computers and the internet are new, we have nerds led by Ray Kurzweil who worship cloud computing as their personal apotheosis.



  1. Raucous Indignation says

    Grand-dad was a radium stoker on an airship! Boy, could Grand-dad tell a great story about the old days. And grow tumors. Holy crap almighty, the old guy could grow tumors!!

  2. says

    Raucous Indignation@#1:
    Boy, could Grand-dad tell a great story about the old days

    Nothing like sitting by the glow without the fire, and listening to the stories, huh?

  3. Dunc says

    Hell, early in the nuclear age, sci-fi had atomic everything. There’s definitely at least one mention of atomic ashtrays in Asimov. (A brief search doesn’t turn anything up, but both eBay and Etsy think they can sell me one…)

  4. Andrew Dalke says

    Hostess (1951). “Slowly, she took up the paper upon which she had scrawled her thoughts of the afternoon, tore it into little pieces and let them flutter into the little atomic-flash ashtray upon her desk.”

    In 1964 Asimov predicted that “[t]he appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes.”

  5. cartomancer says

    It goes back a long way. When mathematical optics was new and exciting, in the mid thirteenth century, the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon imagined that soon we would have all kinds of wonderful technologies based on the application of reflected and refracted rays. We could create giant burning mirrors to fry the saracens, for instance. Or arrays of reflectors to fool the saracens into thinking our armies were much bigger than they were. Or ways to deflect the life-bringing cosmic rays from their lands so their crops fail. Or really fast vehicles without horses, or that fly like light rays, which we can use to outflank and surround the saracens. Or really advanced astrology so we’d know what they were doing before they did.

    I’m not sure this school of military thinking has changed much in the last seven hundred and fifty years.

  6. komarov says

    To be precise pedantic, it’s all quantum these days. Oh, and cloud, of course. But we are only a few breakthroughs away from fusion-everything – well, have been, for a while. So now I wonder which is better: The classic atomic ashtray or a new cloud-connected quantumfusion ashtray? Is the upgrade worthwhile? It’s not like I even smoke…

    P.S.: Dunc, I might be willing to sell you my old atomic ashtray on ebay. Batteries not included, naturally.

  7. says

    Andrew Dalke@#4:
    the little atomic-flash ashtray upon her desk.

    I used to have one of the Amazon.com Alexa micro black hole disposal systems, but I stopped using it because every time I tossed garbage into it, I noticed all the LCD displays in my office flickering.

  8. says

    We could create giant burning mirrors to fry the saracens, for instance

    Didn’t Archimedes propose something similar? Like they were giant ants!

    Obligatory new overhyped technology: cyberwar.

  9. says

    The classic atomic ashtray or a new cloud-connected quantumfusion ashtray? Is the upgrade worthwhile? It’s not like I even smoke…

    Go with the cloud-connected one – it’s in someone else’s data center. But I have trouble keeping the wormhole open since my cat went down it.

  10. Andrew Dalke says

    Yeah, the Helmholtz coils on the Alexas tend to deflux every E24 ergs or so. Every couple of weeks I toss in an old fridge magnet to keep that from happening to mine.

  11. cartomancer says

    Marcus, #8

    Yes, Archimedes’ burning mirrors were well known during the Middle Ages, as Livy mentions them in his history of Rome. Though the principle was known centuries before Archimedes – there is a reference in Aristophanes’ Clouds to a domestic version, made of crystal, that pharmacists could use for lighting fires when needed. The irony of Bacon’s eagerness to turn his fanciful ray weapons on the Saracens is that it was through Arabic science that the Latin West rediscovered Greek optics at all – principally through the works of Al-Kindi and Alhacen. Though better texts of Euclid, Archimedes and other Greek writers were soon found among Byzantine monasteries as the Thirteenth Century wore on.

    I’m always disappointed when people talk about cyber-war. I imagine battalions of heavily armed battle cyborgs slugging it out with one another, not pale, nervous people in cardigans scheduling denial of service attacks.