Eben Byers had the potential to lead a life characterized by privilege and admiration. Born into affluence as the son of a wealthy industrialist, he received an education from the most esteemed institutions in the United States, with his prosperous future seemingly guaranteed. As a golfer, we might have even known him as an exceptional golfer today. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Despite triumphing as a prominent golfer, Eben Byers experienced a distressing situation where his jaw became detached instead of basking in opulence. And that’s what he is famous for.
Hold up. What, you might ask.
During Eben Byers’ era, the field of medicine was considerably less advanced compared to the present day (ostensibly so, as we would soon realize). At that time, one of the widely embraced therapeutic approaches was the utilization of radium, a newly discovered element.
Regrettably, Byers received a recommendation from his physician to undergo this treatment following an arm injury he sustained in 1927.
Byers gained notoriety when he developed a condition known as “Radithor jaw,” which was a consequence of ingesting radium. Tragically, his exposure to this perilous radioactive substance led to the complete detachment of the lower portion of his face, eventually leading to his untimely demise due to cancer.
This chilling account depicts the true story of Eben Byers, whose demise served as a catalyst for a groundbreaking revolution in the field of medicine.
Who was Even Byers?
Eben Byers, originally named Ebenezer McBurney Byers, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 12, 1880. His father, Alexander McBurney Byers, was a prominent figure who held multiple roles, including being an art collector, financier, and president of his steel company named after him and the National Iron Bank of Pittsburgh, as stated by the Frick Collection.
Being raised in a family of considerable wealth, Eben Byers enjoyed the privileges that came with it, which included access to the finest resources money could offer. This encompassed his education, where he attended esteemed institutions like St. Paul’s in Concord, New Hampshire, and Yale College, as it was known at that time.
However, in the realm of sports, young Eben Byers thrived. In 1906, he achieved victory in the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, as reported by the Golf Compendium.
Subsequently, Byers’ father entrusted him with the position of chairman in his business venture, the A. M. Byers Company stood as one of the largest producers of wrought iron in the United States.
Unfortunately, a tragic accident soon befell the young Byers, setting him on a fateful path that ultimately led to his premature demise.
Eben Byers Has a Fall (Literally and Figuratively)
In November 1927, while returning home from attending the annual Yale-Harvard football game, Eben Byers encountered an incident when the train abruptly came to a halt. The Allegheny Cemetery Heritage stated that this sudden jolt caused him to fall from his berth, resulting in an arm injury.
To treat his injury, Byers sought medical advice from Dr. C. C. Moyer, who prescribed him a medication called Radithor. This particular medicine was created by dissolving radium in water. During the mid-1920s, the potential dangers of radioactive substances, such as genetic mutations and cancer, were not yet widely recognized with significant levels of exposure.
Consequently, when an individual named William J. Bailey, who had dropped out of Harvard, introduced Radithor, it gained rapid popularity.
Bailey deceitfully presented himself as a medical doctor despite lacking the credentials. He amassed significant wealth through the sale of Radithor, a solution consisting of radium dissolved in water, which he misleadingly asserted to have stimulating effects on the endocrine system.
To further promote the product, Bailey offered physicians a 1/6 kickback for each prescribed dose.
Over the span of three years, Byers consumed up to 1,400 doses of radium water, drinking as many as three bottles of Radithor per day. Between 1927 and 1930, Byers claimed that Radithor provided him with a sensation of being “toned-up,” although some accounts suggest he may have taken it for more personal reasons.
According to the Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity, Byers had earned the nickname “Foxy Grandpa” from his classmates at Yale due to his charisma with women. Radithor seemingly rejuvenated his renowned libido as he approached his late 40s.
However, regardless of Byers’ motives for using the drug, the consequences proved devastating regarding side effects.
The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off
In October 1930, he ceased consumption when the “toned up” effect gradually diminished. Byers began to experience weight loss, frequent headaches, and the distressing occurrence of tooth loss.
In 1931, the Federal Trade Commission requested Byers to testify about his ordeal. However, due to his deteriorating health, he was unable to travel, prompting the commission to send a lawyer to gather his statement at his residence.
The lawyer reported a shocking observation: Byers had undergone extensive surgical removal of his upper jaw, with only two front teeth and a significant portion of his lower jaw remaining intact. Furthermore, the lawyer noted the disintegration of bone tissue throughout his body and the formation of holes in his skull.
Byers met his demise on March 31, 1932, and his cause of death was attributed to “radiation poisoning,” using the terminology of that era. However, the underlying cause of his passing was cancer rather than acute radiation syndrome. He was laid to rest in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a lead-lined coffin.
Following the authorities’ closure of Bailey’s company, he attempted to sell the same product under a different name, indicating his persistence in promoting the item despite the consequences.
In 1965, Eben Byers’ body was exhumed for further study, and it was discovered that his remains still exhibited high levels of radioactivity. This finding highlights the lasting impact of his exposure to radium and its lingering effects on his body even after his death.
Next, read about the True Story of the Man who Fooled the Entire Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Then, about the Disturbing Story of the Helios Flight 522 Crash!
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