Alfred Curie and Tho Radia

In 1933 a new brand of radioactive cosmetics – Tho Radia – was launched in Paris with a striking poster campaign by Tony Burnand.

Prominent on this poster was the name Docteur Alfred Curie who, we were told, was the originator of the formula used in the range, which included creams, toothpaste, and soap.[1]

Until relatively recently historians assumed that Curie was not a real person and had been made up transfer the authority of the name to the product. [2]  But work by Thierry Lefebvre and Richard Mould have shown beyond doubt that Alfred Curie did, in fact, exist and was, indeed, a medical doctor even if his relationship with the brand remains slightly shrouded in mystery.

Who was Alfred Curie?

Whilst we know little about his background it is beyond doubt that he was not a member of Pierre Curie’s family.

Our man, Alfred, was born in April 1873 in Haute-Saone[3] and in 1911 he defended his thesis on “Treatment of Spina Bifidia” at the Faculty of Medicine at the age of 38.[4]

We can trace him through Le Guide Rosenwald – which lists all French doctors – through his internship at L’Hopital de Clincy and his private clinics at 62 Boulevard Magenta, Paris, and 29 rue Dareau in the same city. But just as there seems to be very little historical evidence about his life before 1911, he flits in and out of the medical directories for several decades before settling at 8 Villa Monceau in the early 1930s.

That same year he registers a trademark application for a Crème Radio-Thorium (no 162627) despite, apparently, having no previous interest or experience in pharmaceuticals. In November 1932 he registers the brand Tho Radia (no 201120) for “pharmaceutical, beauty and pharmacy products” and this is duly launched in March 1933.

1933, authors’ own collection

1933, authors’ own collection

1935, authors’ own collection

The Tho-Radia cream was sold for 15 francs per 155 gram pot; soap, 3 francs per 100 gram bar; powder, 12 francs per 50 gram box; toothpaste, 6 francs per tube.

From the start, and as would be appropriate for someone who had registered the trademark, the name Alfred Curie is featured prominently on posters, adverts and even on the products themselves.

The 1935 Dictionnaire Medical et Pratique des Soins de Beauté produced by Tho Radia, a gorgeous 157 pages of engravings, drawings and photographs has no less than 4 full page adverts listing his name.

And his involvement, whether active or just in name, continues until 1937 when the French government placed significant restrictions on the sale of products that contained thorium and radium. The effects of this 1937 Schedule A classification clearly had implications for the marketing and manufacturing processes of the Tho-Radia brand which had traded on its “a base de radium et de thorium” for 4 years, even listing its formula as:

Bromure Radium    0,01 microgr
Sulfate Thorium      0,10 gramme
Oxyde de Titane     4 gramme

The company would have had no choice but to stop using these ingredients.  However printed advertising evidence implies that the company did not undertake any radical rebranding and appears to continue its commercial success with advertisements in high prestige (and high circulation) magazines such as Marie Claire. I have found no evidence that the company made any announcement that its products no longer contained radium and it appears that they just quietly abandoned their use it.

What did happen was that the trademark for Tho Radia was transferred from Alfred to Alexis Moussali, the Director of Tho Radia,[5] and all mention of Alfred Curie is removed from advertisements and the products themselves.

Tho-Radia continued to market itself as a ‘méthode scientifique de beauté’ emphasising its scientific credentials but with the noticeable change that, instead of thorium and radium, it is only claimed to contain ‘active ingredients that are incorporated under the direction of a Dr who is a specialist in dermatology’.[6]  The brand therefore continued to use the authoritative figure of a doctor to sell and legitimise its products but this professional was now a specialist in dermatology only – rather than an individual whose name was associated with radium.

Was Alfred Curie really the originator?

As much as I want Alfred to have been the originator of the formula the fact that he was just a regular doctor and stopped his association with the company the moment the regulations surrounding the commercial use of radium changed suggests that he wasn’t.

It was common practice amongst beauty companies to find someone with a recognisable name, but not necessarily a relation, to register a product. This would have had the benefits of association but could also bring other issues.

We know from letters in the Curie collection, that either Marie or someone else in the family had consulted a lawyer about the use of the Curie name in connection with Tho Radia. The advice from the attorney consulted, J.L de Ricqlès, was that whilst on one hand there was nothing that could be done to prevent someone using their own name for commercial ends there had been a recent judgement in a similar case that had determined that “one cannot use the name in such a way that it is susceptive to create the prejudicial confusion to other persons interests, even when those are simply moral.”[9]

This case cited seems to have been in relation to an Alphonse Pasteur who had trademarked a range of hygienic products called “Pastor Antonie” in Paris the previous year.

Although the advice was that it would be possible to serve a lawsuit I can’t find any evidence that this actually took place or even that the company was warned by the Curie family.

It seems more likely that the true originator of Tho Radia was their Director, Dr Alfred Mousalli who, between 1927 and 1934, patented 101 radium or radioactive based preparations including Laboradium (1929), Microradium (1932), Radioskin (1931)and Radium Cure (1932).

Dr Moussali had been previously listed, along with Curie, but after 1937 his name appears alone.

References and Further Reading
[1] Tho-Radior advertisement, 1933, own collection [translated from French original].[2] Dick Mould, ‘Radiation History Anecdotes: No 2, The Mysterious Dr Alfred Curie’. SCOPE, 15:3, 2006, p. 2.[3] Lefebvre, Thierry – L’histoire etonnate du Tho-Radia[4] Lefebvre, Thierry – L’histoire etonnate du Tho-Radia[5][6] Tho-Radia advertisement, 9th June 1939, Marie Claire [translated from French original].[7] Lefebvre & Raynal, p. 478.[8] Lefebvre & Raynal, p. 478.[9] Eva Hemmungs Wirten- Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information

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