Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY CULTURE

One of the world's first energy drinks was actually radioactive

There are a lot of ways to get your day started, give yourself and early-evening boost, or even just shake off "that 2:30 feeling." Maybe sticking to coffee or B-vitamins, proven effective over hundreds of years, would be best. Given the history of revitalizing energy drinks, you might be getting more than your money's worth.


But Pepsi should have paid us to drink Josta.

Anyone who's served in the military for at least twenty minutes after basic training discovered fairly quickly that American troops love certain things – and many of those things are legal stimulants. Anything from preworkout to dip to, of course, energy drinks. And everything from Monster to Rip-Its is what probably sustains half of the U.S. military force around the world (don't check on those numbers, that's just what it seems like).

Things like guarana, taurine, mentira, and yerba mate are all so common in energy drinks nowadays that we barely even think about them. We think about the ingredients of energy drinks so little that I made up one of those ingredients and it's unlikely anyone would have checked on it. Even in the early days of these newfangled beverages, people seemed more concerned with flavor and the consequences of mixing them with alcohol than anything else.

But it turns out blindly accepting any drink as safe is foolish. That goes double for energy drinks.

Energy drinks always seem to be about catching the latest fad, "unleashing the power" of guarana, or cherries, or green tea, or ketones, or radium, or BCAA or – wait what?

Radium: the radioactive isotope that had all the world in a rage. In the early 20th Century, radium was hailed as a miracle, and its unique elemental properties could be seen with the naked eye. It seemed like everyone was in love with radium's pretty blue glow. No one knew it was more radioactive than uranium, however, and no one understood just how dangerous that was. For nearly 30 years, radium could be found in a surprising array of products from fertilizers to cigarettes to energy drinks.

One of those was a beverage called Radithor – certified radioactive water.

Radithor was giving people cancer before Red Bull gave them wings.

Radithor was a solution of radioactive radium salts and distilled water, advertising itself as "perpetual sunshine," and a "cure for the living dead." Its creator charged the modern-day equivalent of $15 for every bottle and claimed it could cure impotence and mend broken bones, which would be ironic for one Radithor drinker, Pittsburgh businessman Eben Byers.

Byers began taking the drink to help heal a broken arm but continued drinking it long after it was "necessary." His habit was soon as many as three bottles of the stuff every day. It was this habit, of course, that killed him. The radium deposited in his new bone tissue and, after a few years, was pretty much a part of his skeleton. Holes soon formed in his skull and his jaw fell off. Even though Byers had to be buried in a lead-lined coffin, his death led to the end of the radium-based health craze.

It would be decades before another energy drink craze hit the streets, this time based on simple B-vitamins. Stick to the safe stuff.