Letters presents readers' comments and reactions to specific articles in Pennsylvania Heritage, the initiatives of PHMC, and other developments in the historical, cultural and museum communities of Pennsylvania.

Radium, U.S.A

I look forward to receiving every edition of Pennsylvania Heritage. The articles are always informative and well written. I learned much about Pittsburgh’s early contributions to the nuclear age from Joel O. Lubenau’s article, “Radium City, U.S.A.” The photographs were intriguing, especially those of Marie Curie touring the Standard Chemical Company’s plant in Canonsburg and of her with her daughters and Marie Brown. For the sake of historical accuracy, in the article’s “Post Script,” it was incorrectly stated that Krakow, Poland, was part of Tsarist Russia at the time of Marie (Sklodowska) Curie’s birth in 1867. In fact, it was in the Austrian Partition of Poland that at the time was called Galicia, a vast province of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

J. Grzebieniak
New Castle, Pa.

I am interested in the Radium Brand Fertilizer pictures in the Fall 2005 issue. Were the larger potatoes and taller flowers really the result of radiation that is just too dangerous to use today? Could the investigators have made the common mistake of finding what they wanted to find? Or was this deliberate fraud?

M. Vernon Ordiway
Ridgway, Pa.

During the “Radium Craze,” from the 1920s through the 1950s, many people believed in the benefits of radium and eagerly purchased all sorts of radium-infused products, such as elixirs, tablets, water, bread, bath salts, suppositories, hair tonic, candy bars, contraceptive jelly, even toothpaste. The Standard Chemical Company did not spike its fertilizer with purified radium, contends researcher Richard Hull, but instead ground up radioactive ore tailings from its waste operations and mixed tire radium-laden uranium rock dust in with the normal fertilizer. The company used photographs of the super-sized potatoes and flowers to advertise its product long before the introduction of the Federal Trade Commission’s “truth in advertising” law. Enough said? In editing Joel O. Lubenau’s article, the number of tons of ore and various chemicals needed by he Standard Chemical Company to produce one gram of radium was erroneously switched. The process required five hundred tons of ore and five tons of various chemicals. The editor hanks Rodger Granlund, retired radiation safety officer for the Pennsylvania State University, for making this correction.



I enjoy Pennsylvania Heritage for the many surprises it brings to its readers. The Fall 2005 issue was no exception. The articles on scien­tists Edward Cope [“Edward Drinker Cope: Pennsylvania’s Greatest Naturalist” by Spencer G. Lucas and Robert M. Sullivan”] and Marie Curie and her visit to western Pennsylvania [“Radium City, U.S.A.” by Joel O. Lubenau] in this edition are just two examples of little-known chapters in our state history that you folks always seem to uncover. How you do it is a mystery to me, but keep up the great work!

Michelle Zamoris
Pittsburgh, Pa.



Congratulations to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission on the silver anniversary of the State Historic Preservation Board, as well as on the other landmark anniversaries in which the Commission plays a part. I am an avid reader of newspapers, magazines, and assorted periodicals, but until I read the most recent issue of your very fine magazine [“An Impressive Legacy: A Half-Century of Historic Preservation in Pennsylvania, 1955-2005” by Kenneth C. Wolensky and Michel R. Lefevre], I had no idea of these milestones. The Commission and the magazine have given every Pennsylvanian many reasons to be proud of your historic preservation program. Special thanks to Pennsylvania Heritage for making us all aware of our precious neighborhoods, villages, and cities, and what the Commission is doing to make sure they are preserved.

Joshua F. White
Philadelphia, Pa.

Your article on historic preservation in Pennsylvania is a welcome addition to my growing library of Pennsylvania historical materials, which I use in my volunteer work to teach newcomers about this great state. We are lucky to have so many historic buildings, such as Independence Hall and Elfreth’s Alley, but we’re even luckier that we live in a state whose leadership is dedicated to saving and reusing important (but lesser-known structures) for a variety of functions. When I read about all the historic communities in Pennsylvania, I just want to visit each one.

Kim Nguyen
Philadelphia, Pa.

At first I thought the article on historic preservation was just going to be a self-­serving, “look how great we are,” story, but by the second page, I realized that it’s a celebration of the many partners and partnerships the PHMC has engaged over the years. Congratulations are definitely in order!

Blaine V. Tyler
Erie, Pa.


Wish You Were Here!

I love the new postcard page [“Wish You Were Here!,” which debuted in the Fall 2005 issue] because it just proves that even the tiniest fragment can reveal an awful lot about the past. It’s great to see both sides of the card because the greeting, more often than not, is more interesting than the picture. Local historians can learn much about their communities if they took a close look at such messages. Be forewarned, though: not every note is revealing, but some are priceless, provid­ing an eyewitness account or an insider’s view of events just before, during, and after the opening of the twentieth century. Since this was the era of the popular penny postcard, maybe you should have called this page “A Penny For Your Thoughts!”

Gerald A. Koch
Greensburg, Pa.


More Science

Only two changes could possibly make Pennsylvania Heritage better than it is – if that is at all possible. First, more historical essays on science are needed, as I greatly enjoyed the one devoted to Cope [“Edward Drinker Cope, Pennsylvania’s Greatest Naturalist” by Spencer G. Lucas and Robert M. Sullivan, Fall 2005], who was one of the nation’s greatest paleontologists. My second recommendation is to expand “Out and About,” which is intelligently written and arguably one of the best commentaries in print on exhibits, events, and activities in Pennsylvania. Had they not been previewed in Pennsylvania Heritage, there are several museum exhibitions I would have missed.

Helen Murray
Reading, Pa.