The Nuclear Products Company and me



A few days before Christmas I was given a box of ‘Antique Cameras’. All of my family and friends know that I collect antique cameras, restore them whenever possible and even go as far as repairing them to working condition when I’m totally bored.  The holidays came and went and really I had forgotten about the box of goodies, with everything else that was happening.

Tonight I pulled out the box and started going through its contents. The box wasn’t actually full of Cameras, but certainly related – Darkroom equipment. Inside was an old stainless steel 35mm developing tank with two brand new unopened stainless reels inside. In their original yellow box were two Kodak Darkroom Graduate glasses, 16 and 32oz. I opened the box and the glasses were there, intact and in perfect condition. Kodak logo and markings on the glass still very much ‘stuck’ and didn’t seem to want to get rubbed off any time soon. Between the two glasses was a page from the Baltimore Evening Sun, Thursday May 23rd, 1968. Hey look at that a Safeway ad. Two Dozen Large eggs, $0.79.

Digging deeper, a Hayes K-2 Photometer with an old style power cord and plug that just beg you to plug them into a modern outlet. “I won’t burn down your house” it says, but we’re not buying it.

Another toy in is an accurate and fast reading Kahlsico analog thermometer. A Prinz hot shoe flash with a collapsible metal dish that slides out and clips to itself – It looks like a miniature satellite dish, in fact, I think E.T. used it to phone home. A bakelite Film Winder in fantastic condition (To wind your own film from bulk rolls to 35mm canisters) and a funny little plastic box on which the only thing I see is ‘Nuclear Products Company’.

Uh oh.

Of course curious I open the box right up, I didn’t have time to go get my lead apron. There’s a funny little brush inside. Plastic handle, metal ‘vent’ looking thing and what seems to be horsehair. Staticmaster to the rescue! I pulled out the brush and inside was a certificate that explained the product and exactly how radioactive it is.

The brush has a strip of a radioactive material called Polonium between a silver and gold strip in the metal vent. The Polonium sends out alpha waves that won’t penetrate the skin but create dense ionization. This ionization charges the bristles and the brush becomes an effective anti-static tool. Update: Photo-John on Twitter says:  “Radioactive brushes were standard issue. They’re anti-static to keep dust from settling on film.” Well, that explains a lot – I’ve met a few people who probably spent too much time in the darkroom.

I searched out to find out what the half-life of Polonium 210 was. Bummer, 138 days. In fact, the vent has stamped ‘Guar. Until Aug 68’.  Still though, the certificate says the  metal can hold trace amounts of radioactive material which must not be ingested or used for scrap metal.

The brush itself is in good condition, a few horsehair bristles have fallen out inside of the case. The certificate is in good condition and so is the plastic box. Good conversation piece, and thankfully so – where do you properly dispose of Polonium 210 anymore?


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