On Thursday, August 31 at 6:30 Ottawa resident Heinz Suppan will be at the Princeton Public Library to talk about his book Marking Time: The Radium Girls of Ottawa. At the turn of the 20th Century radium became a miracle cure for almost any ailment and after World War I several U.S. companies decided to use radium to paint watch dials. Nearly a century later, Suppan pays tribute to the girls exposed to this deadly toxin by telling their story in his book.
When a luminous dial processing company opened in Ottawa, Illinois, it offered great employment opportunities to many young girls who were paid very well for their work. Little did they know that the radium paint they used proved to be dangerous. Many of the girls became ill and died after using lip pointing techniques to paint the dial numerals and hands. The company denied there was such an illness as radium poisoning and did whatever it could to cover up its failure to determine what made their employees become sick and die. It took legal action and governmental intervention to end the death toll and to force the companies to take responsibility.
Heinz Suppan has taught German and history classes at a variety of local schools, and has also published work on the Black Creek War and the Indian Creek Massacre. He currently teaches at Marquette Academy and Joliet Junior College and resides with his wife Leslie in Ottawa.