Chronometry: Absence of Radium in US WWI Aircarft Clocks

Discussion in 'Chronometers' started by DeweyC, Feb 25, 2016.

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  1. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Most US WWII aircraft clocks did not use radium (ie 37500;CDIA and most A-11s). Never really though about it until a customer queried me. When I have run into it in A-11s they were early war production.

    I now have a hypothesis it had more to do with the Manhattan Project than human health.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    Until nuclear power came along there wasn't much demand for Uranium, it was the increase in price that stopped it being used for pigments in glass and ceramics. I don't think the Manhattan project would have had that much effect on the availability of Radium, perhaps it was never as big a thing as it was in Europe?

    We were still using it for clocks in the sixties, once they stopped the women who painted it on from licking their brushes it became much less hazardous. The big hazard with it now is that the paint itself has become unstable and it flakes off.
     
  3. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Someone me sent this: from (http://www.ccnr.org/uranium_events.html)

    THE WWII ATOMIC BOMB PROJECT

    1938 to 1939 :
    German scientists discover that uranium atoms can be fissioned, or split, releasing energy. Scientists everywhere soon realize that if a "chain reaction" can be achieved, a powerful "atomic bomb" can be built using uranium.
    May 1941:
    The U.S. Government orders 8 tons of uranium for military research from Eldorado, the Canadian company that owned and operated the Great Bear Lake mine. Uranium is extracted from existing radium residues.

     
  4. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    May 41 was quite late in the war, I still don't think that would be the cause.

    According to this there was a surge in demand for radium based luminous paint when the US entered the war, if it wasn't for avaiation instruments there must have been another reason.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Radium_Corporation
     
  5. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    We all tend to think in terms of our own history. US did not enter until December 1941. Manhattan started sometime in 1942. As I said, only early US made clocks used radium and none of the late 1942 product. In fact, many of those A-11s were ordered before the war (the US WWII) so... Yet other combatant countries used Radium.

    As you said, a Radium shortage when the US entered the war. So far the most parsimonious explanation of the data seems to support the idea that Manhattan sucked up the radioactive materials.

    i really do not know;was just a curiosity I never put together until yesterday. Like why Smith's had access to LeCoultre clocks and the US did not (UK Smuggled much Swiss product in Diplomatic pouch including a pinion cuttig machine and a Wild 3D photo imaging system as well as the clicks as described in an article published in The Historical Journal (2005) Cambridge Press). I wondered about his for years until a colleague sent me a copy of the article.

    Even a friend who is the historian emeritus for the CIA was unaware that UK kept a source of war materiel secret. Of course, I would have done the same if I had limited production ability and did not need an ally I was not entirely sure of hogging all the needed product. But some fascinating things happened during WWII and Manhattan taking all the radium would not be the biggest surprise.

    It is all cool stuff and why this business holds my attention after all these years.
     
  6. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    No, I said demand rose when the US entered the war, that's not the same at all. The demand was for military instruments, if not for aviation then for other instruments. As the wikipedia entry points out the use of radium based paint continued throughout the war and afterwards.
     
  7. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    NOT in the US. Sorry.
     
  8. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Ran out of edit time.


    The crux of inquiry is the falsifiability of a hypothesis. One way to clearly knock out this hypothesis is to find an instrument made in the US after 1942 that used radium.

    No CDIA or 37500. Most A-11s. The only A-11s I have seen with radium are marked for the USAAC and not USAAF (1942 designation change I think). I have not seen a clock made after 1942 that used radium.

    Hence my question/hypothesis. Your comments agree with my observation that the US was unique in the disuse of radium for aircraft instruments. The Japanese, UK and Commonwealth forces, Soviet, Italian and even German forces used radium. But they were not involved in an atomic project on the scale io Manhattan.

    I only posited this as an observation after 25 years of servicing military aircraft clocks. Like I said, easy to knock down if a WWII US production piece made after 1942 uses radium.
     
  9. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    My comments don't support what you say at all. If the lack of radium based paint in US aircraft instruments were really down to the soaking up of all radium supply in the US by the Manhattan project then there would be no radium paint used in the US. However that isn't the case.

    As I said, if no radium was used in US aviation then it must have been for a different reason, because the company using radium based paint was still active throughout the latter stages of the war when the US joined.
     
  10. captainscarlet

    captainscarlet Registered User

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    I'm not going to pretend to know anything about planes, as I've only ever jumped out of them, but I wonder if the reason might be a technological advance rather than a shortage. I imagine the cockpits and instrument clusters were lit except during tactical operations, so perhaps luminosity was no longer required?
     
  11. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Interesting thought. We need some smart people who know how to do historical research. All I know is that during the war a number of materials were classified as strategic materials and were directed solely toward war purposes. And about the time Manhattan was getting started the switch away from radium in the US happened while in other countries radium continued to be used. Then I was sent to a link discussing how radium ore was used to pull put uranium.

    I had a friend who went from flying off the Langley to commanding a jet squadron. Wish he was still around. He would either know what happened or come up with the answer (especially about cockpit tech).
     
  12. captainscarlet

    captainscarlet Registered User

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    That's me out of the conversation then;)
     
  13. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
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    I'm not sure it relates to the focus on aircraft instruments, but I have a 1943 field repair kit for Waltham's tank clock that includes radium dials. I also have radium hand for Waltham wristwatches from 1953.
     
  14. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    Given that the company doing the painting is supposed to have expanded to meet the increased demand in 1942 for luminous dials it seems not unreasonable that the dials must have been used on something if they weren't used on planes.
     
  15. captainscarlet

    captainscarlet Registered User

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    I'm pretty sure that Radium was being used on the 9 jewel Waltham GSTP pocket watches throughout WW2. It seems to me that the watches function would determine the use of luminous material, and Radium met the required specification.
     
  16. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    #16 DeweyC, Feb 26, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
    GSTP would be Commonwealth? Might have been applied in country. We know Smiths reworked LeCoultre product which were then issued to the RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces.

    If used by Britain on General Service Time Pieces (pretty low grade) why was Radium not used on 4992B or M22?

    It is the discrepancy that is of interest to me.

    The tank kit is interesting but need to know stocking/contact date. The issue for me is post 1942, US product. It is a given that other combatants used radium throughout the war.

    We know radium was used pre and post WWII for American timepieces which only underscores its absence in aircraft clocks produced in the US after 1942.
     
  17. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    #17 DeweyC, Feb 26, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
    Now I my interest is really piqued. Found the official historiy of Manhattan while googling radium rationing in WWII.

    http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/011/11-10/cmh_pub_11-10.pdf

    Pg 61 outlines the use and stockpiling of Radium. Also, while I only did a cursory read, it looks like Manhattan was only given the highest priority in late 1942.

    Still looking for something that is definitive about how radium was rationed (was essential in medicine for example).

    Another site documenting the govt control of Radium mines: (it is a Uni history lecture outline, read down)

    https://www.coursehero.com/file/p39tjk/Because-wartime-emergency-US-took-control-War-not-just-about-men-at-war-and/
     
  18. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    Given that the company doing the painting expanded then the lack of use in aircraft must have another reason.

    The risk from radium was well established by WWII, with court cases leading to the bankruptcy of one of the original firms in thje thirties.

    American planes has lit instruments from what I've read, using red light, if that is so then luminous coatings would be irrelevant. During WWII the US bombing was done in daylight, the RAF did the night flying. Perhaps that was also a factor in aircraft specification. Obviously that wouldn't apply to land and sea so perhaps that explains where the US output of painted dials was going.

    You seem to be ignoring the company that was actually doing the work. Nowhere can I find anuything suggesting they were forced to close.
     
  19. River rat

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    #19 River rat, Feb 26, 2016
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    Here are a few of my aircraft clocks. The civil date Waltham from WW 2 and I bet the numbers and hands would make any geiger counter start working some had radium some did not. And a WW1 one were the time markers have radium the hands ether some painted over the radium or it's been removed. I don't worry about these that muck due to I don't wear them on my wrist. Do got some early issued watches issued to aviators that got radium but wear them a few days at a time don't think that will hurt me. Search the net for Radium girls a real sad story about them they use to paint the dial and hands of watches with radium paint.
    P9013597.jpg

    P9123629.jpg
     
  20. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    #20 DeweyC, Feb 28, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2016
    You will lose the bet. ASSC is pre 1930s. I have serviced plenty of em.
     
  21. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    It is is all ok. You have your opinions. I am interested in explaining the discrepancy, that is all. Part if inquiry is having ideas tested and that is why I posted it here. So far I have heard no other hypothesis that explains the discrepancy ("I bet" is an opinion and not data).

    To be clear, my construct is simple. The USA Manhattan project sequestered Radium stockpiles starting in late 1942. I know no US product made after 1942 that incorporated radium. Product contracted before 1941 certainly DID incorporate radium. Why did it stop?

    Other combatant countries used Radium thoughout the war while after 1942 the US stopped using it. Why?

    Other combatants even issued low grade product with Radium (modified in country like Lecoutre RAF A/C clocks by Smiths?) while the US did not use radium in much higher grade product like 499Bs and M22 which were used in very low light conditions and under combat conditions where the light would not have exposed the user to enemy fire.

    Why?

    As far as company expansion... if you could explain what their wartime mission was, that would be helpful. For example, Lionel expanded to make navigational instruments, not toy trains; and Ford made the largest factories in the world to make bombers, not cars. In WWII, a company's expansion most often had very little to do with it's pre War catalog.
     
  22. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    They expanded the number of dial painters. Not really sure how much clearer that can be stated.

    Radium is a byproduct of the extraction of Uranium from pitchblende, I don't see why anybody would be preventing the use of radium to further the aims of the manhattan project which obtained uranium from a number of sources including the UK who had supplies from the Belgian Congo I believe.

    It seems far more likely that there is another reason why it wasn't used in US planes. The numerous lawsuits regarding the health implications, the advent of electric lighting and the lack of night flying.

    The lighting/non lighting in aircraft was not to avoid detection but to preserve night vision for pilots and crew, hence the use of red electric lighting.

    I still use radium at school occasionally but not very often. It is a pain as it takes more maintenance than any of my other sources because of its decay products necessitating periodic cleaning of the lead containers.
     
  23. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    It ok Nick, really. I just do not think your case is stronger than what I suggest. That is what makes the world spin.

    But I AM hoping someone has something definitive on this one way or the other. As a friend once told me, "you have to have ideas Before you can have good ideas". No clue yet as to whether this idea is good or not. Time will tell.

    FWIW, this is a photo of some of the stock I purchased from instrument service shops over the years. By US law they had to check for radium before they could transfer it. Many NOS dials put in storage packs from the line in 1946.

    I have some familiarity with the business of aircraft instrumentation and many of my customers are warbird owners.


    IMG_2580 (Medium).JPG
     
  24. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    #24 DeweyC, Feb 28, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2016

    Your hypothesis does not fit the data. US companies re-instituted the use of Radium in product after WWII as noted by the post about 1953 Waltham hands. The wartime disuse of radium for health reasons by the US is not consistent with this fact.

    And your hypothesis would need to explain why the US was more concerned about health than other Allies (since Germany used slave labor we can discount them) about health.

    As an aside, on one hand you report a company expansion as proof radium was used in US dials (where were they used?) expanded and on the other you argue radium is absent from US product because of health concerns. Does not seem possible these ideas are consistent with each other.
     
  25. DeweyC

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    FWIW, the alpha particles emitted by Radium do not penetrate skin/clothing. It is like asbestos, it is only a problem when ingested (dial painter licking brush tips and service people who eat at the bench/do not practice safe handling procedures). Once the dial is cased, there is is no danger to a user. Which is why "user health" does not make a very god hypothesis for why the US did not use radium on dials after 1942. The health concern would be for all workers who produced dials or assembled product.
     
  26. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    It is true the alpha doesn't get out of the case. The risk comes to anybody working on the watch as the paint will have become unstable with time and the dust can be ingested. The products of decay are also mobile in the form of radon gas though the quantities involved from a single instrument are low.

    That isn't the whole story of course, radium is a gamma source and that does indeed go through the case, fortunately it usually goes through you as well without any adverse effect.
     
  27. captainscarlet

    captainscarlet Registered User

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    I've just had a quick scan through Marvin E. Whitney's book on military timepieces and found a number of 1942/43 specifications/amendments for US made aircraft clocks, pocket watches and wrist watches which were required to have luminous material applied to their dials and hands. I wonder if the OP might have part/stock numbers for the ones he has. While I was reading, another thought occurred to me. What was the cost of Luminous Verses non luminous dial and hand sets........War is an expensive business after all and perhaps government accountants were gripping the purse strings more tightly.
     
  28. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    All radium is luminous; but not all luminous(flourescent) paint is radium. Radium is an applied material that turns a dirty brown (see the ASSC clock in post above) over time. It s noticeably raised above the dial surface; it is crusty and hard although soluble in water. The paint on post 1942 dials is obvious paint/silk screen. It is not raised and it is not crusty brown.

    You do mention costs; and it is true. Why did Germany continue to apply radium into 1945 given the cost while in US its use stopped after 1942? Can you imagine the costs of an electronic proximity fuse in antiaircraft shells that by definition are "one use"? If there was need, the money was spent. In the case of radium ore, I think the resources went to Manhattan.

    Steel pennies were produced in 1944 because the copper was needed for brass and wire. The War Production Board ruled by fiat and determined who got what based upon a priority system as outline int he official history of Manhattan linked above (as well as any number of other historical source material on WWII).
     
  29. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    This is a guess and by its nature it is one of these things where people who really know can't reveal, either that they know or what the information is. Radium may have been used in some ancillary devices essential to making an atomic bomb work. There is a lot of detail on this in Richard Rhodes's book the Making of the Atomic Bomb.
     
  30. Luis Casillas

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    #30 Luis Casillas, Feb 29, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2016
    Perhaps the war interrupted a large part USA's supply chain for radium? According to a couple of sources I just Googled (e.g., the Wikipedia article), "[t]he chief radium-producing countries are Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and the post-Soviet states," and the Congo. The USA apparently was a minor producer in comparison. So it's possible that the USSR, Germany and the UK redirected the majority of the world's radium supply to themselves during the war.

    Another interesting tidbit is that radium is normally extracted from uranium ores. It might be possible that the demand for uranium somehow affected the supply of radium.

    None of this is detailed enough to conclude anything, but it might be worth looking into. But I'd want to see much better evidence than this before pointing at the Manhattan Project. There could be many different factors that led to this, some of them rather silly, that we could easily be missing.
     
  31. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    Radium is a byproduct of Uranium production and wasn't itself required for weapons production. I don't see why radium would be unavailable even if all the uranium was sucked up by the manhattan project.
     
  32. Dr. Jon

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  33. Peixian

    Peixian Registered User

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    through human's effort, i think the Manhattan will be used in many aspects!
     

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