When Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898 no one was really aware of the dangers of radiation, in fact it was hailed as a miracle cure for any number of ailments from tuberculosis to sagging skin to impotence. It would only be many experiments later that the risk would become apparent. In the meanwhile, a radium craze that swept through France, America, Germany and Italy had people convinced that radium held miraculous health benefits. Just about every product, including chocolates, beauty creams and toothpaste, was made and marketed as radioactive.
In Italy, the waters of the Lurisia mineral spring were known for their curative properties. When a famous Professor of Mineralogy discovered that the mineral spring flowed past a bed of radioactive rock called Autunite, the Italian government turned to the world expert, Marie Curie, to discover Italy’s radioactive resources. Marie Curie arrived in Italy in 1918 to visit and test for radioactivity in areas near Montecatini, Ischia, Capri, Albano Montegrotto, Larderello, and finally Lurisia. Soon Italy jumped into the “radioactive waters” market already thriving in France and America with bottled water from Lurisia marketed with the bold slogan “The most radioactive water in the world.”
Other Made in Italy contributions to the surge in radioactive health and beauty products were water from Bracca, Martinazzi “Beta” Tonic water, a radioactive soap named Radia and the medicine Radiovitale. Thankfully the craze for radioactive health and beauty items ran its course. What remains of the radioactive fad are the advertisements. Today the advertising slogans may be shockingly hilarious considering our knowledge of the havoc radioactive material can cause, but they are also great examples of the golden age of Italian poster design. Highly collectible, these vintage mementos of Italy’s radioactive past are for some a warning about the dangers of health fads and for others a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time.