For a long time it was assumed that anything so miraculously energetic as radioactivity must be beneficial. For years, manufacturers of toothpaste and laxatives put radioactive thorium in their products, and at least until the late 1920s the Glen Springs Hotel in the Finger Lakes region of New York (and doubtless others as well) featured with pride the therapeutic effects of its “Radioactive mineral springs.” Radioactivity wasn’t banned in consumer products until 1938. By this time it was much too late for Madame Curie, who died of leukemia in 1934. Radiation, in fact, is so pernicious and long lasting that even now her papers from the 1890s—even her cookbooks—are too dangerous to handle. Her lab books are kept in lead-lined boxes, and those who wish to see them must don protective clothing.
Thanks to the devoted and unwittingly high-risk work of the first atomic scientists, by the early years of the twentieth century it was becoming clear that Earth was unquestionably venerable, though another half century of science would have to be done before anyone could confidently say quite how venerable. Science, meanwhile, was about to get a new age of its own—the atomic one.