The first reference that links radium to fireworks is in 1903 with a report of a firework display at Alexandra Palace on the 19th September. This display, a benefit carried out by the firework makers’ Messrs Pain & Sons, included displays such as “Looping the Loop” and a set piece called the “Screen of Radium.”
A year later, on the 2nd June 1904, similar reports are made in several newspapers of a firework display at Crystal Palace, this time carried out by the company C.T Brock, which included a “radium light” which was described as an improvement adding brilliance to the display.
19 September 1903, page 8
London Daily News
2 June 1904, page 1
It was very unlikely that there was any public expectation that these fireworks would have actually contained radium instead it is clear that the word radium was being used to express ideas of novelty and modernity. Firework companies were well known for their use of fashionable terms to name their fireworks and, between 1903 and 1904, there was nothing more fashionable or more modern than radium.
But what exactly would these radium fireworks look like is an intriguing puzzle and I have not found any representations of them. A few enquiries to some of the companies that produced these have also not been successful other than the information that often, especially in a professional context, the fireworks would have been referred to by their colour only, so the name radium might have been a reference to the colour of them rather than any illuminating effect.
Although the colour radium is often described as a dark metallic blue I have also seen reference to it as a green and as barium nitrate, chemically similar to radium, has a long history of use as a colouring agent for green fireworks, it is surely a good guess that radium fireworks would have been green.
I would also suggest, based on information provided by Pains & Co, that the Radium Screen would have consisted either of a large flight of green rockets or a bank of green mines launched from the ground. These would have been in a straight line across the audience’s view and would have produced a wall of green stars going upwards or a fall of green stars from the air.
Either way, this would have been a thrilling sight.
1 November 1930, page 9
Nottingham Evening Post
4 November 1930, page 1
Despite the firework companies emphasis on modernity examples far outlive the initial radium enthusiasm of the early twentieth century. In fact, radium fireworks seem to have only died out in the late 1970s suggesting that, by then, radium was being used to signify something quite different altogether.
Radium Dazzler package