Eben Byers

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Eben Byers
Golfer Eben M. Byers.jpg
Byers circa 1903
Personal information
Full nameEbenezer McBurney Byers
Born(1880-04-12)April 12, 1880
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
DiedMarch 31, 1932(1932-03-31) (aged 51)
Manhattan, New York
Nationality United States
Best results in major championships
(wins: 1)
U.S. OpenCUT: 1908
The Open ChampionshipDNP
PGA ChampionshipDNP
U.S. AmateurWon: 1906
British AmateurT17: 1904

Ebenezer McBurney Byers (April 12, 1880 – March 31, 1932) was a wealthy American socialite, athlete, and industrialist. He won the 1906 U.S. Amateur in golf. He earned notoriety in the early 1930s when he died from multiple radiation-induced cancers after consuming Radithor, a popular patent medicine made from radium dissolved in water.


Eben Byers in the 1920s

The son of industrialist Alexander Byers, Eben Byers was educated at St. Paul's School and Yale College,[1] where he earned a reputation as an athlete and ladies' man. He was the U.S. Amateur golf champion of 1906, after finishing runner-up in 1902[2] and 1903.[3] Byers eventually became the chairman of the Girard Iron Company, which had been created by his father.[1]

In 1927, while returning via chartered train from the annual Harvard–Yale football game, Byers fell from his berth and injured his arm. He complained of persistent pain and a doctor suggested that he take Radithor, a patent medicine manufactured by William J. A. Bailey.[4] Bailey was a Harvard University dropout who falsely claimed to be a doctor of medicine and had become rich from the sale of Radithor. Bailey created Radithor by dissolving radium in water to high concentrations, claiming it could cure many ailments by stimulating the endocrine system. He offered physicians a 17% rebate on the prescription of each dose of Radithor.[5]

Byers began taking enormous doses of Radithor, which he believed had greatly improved his health, drinking nearly 1,400 bottles.[6] By 1930, when Byers stopped taking the remedy, he had accumulated significant amounts of radium in his bones resulting in the loss of most of his jaw. Byers' brain was also abscessed, and holes were forming in his skull. His death on March 31, 1932, was attributed to "radiation poisoning" using the terminology of the time, but it was due to cancers, not acute radiation syndrome.[4][7] He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a lead-lined coffin.[5]


Due to Byers' prominence, his death received much publicity. After his death, The Wall Street Journal ran a headline reading "The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off".[8][9] His illness and eventual death also led to a heightened awareness of the dangers of ingesting radioactive materials, and to the adoption of laws that increased the powers of the FDA.[3]

William Bailey was never tried for Byers' death, although the Federal Trade Commission issued an order against his business. However this did not stop Bailey from trading in radioactive products. He later founded a new company – "Radium Institute", in New York – and marketed a radioactive belt-clip, a radioactive paperweight, and a mechanism which made water radioactive.[10]

Major championships[edit]

Amateur wins (1)[edit]

Year Championship Winning score Runner-up
1906 U.S. Amateur 2 up Canada George Lyon

Results timeline[edit]

Tournament 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909
U.S. Amateur R16 R16 2 2 R16 QF 1 SF QF DNP
The Amateur Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP R32 DNP DNP R128 DNP DNP
Tournament 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919
U.S. Amateur R32 R32 R32 R16 R16 R32 R32 NT NT DNQ
The Amateur Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP NT NT NT NT NT
Tournament 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926
The Amateur Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP

Note: Byers died before the founding of the Masters Tournament, and never played in The Open Championship. As an amateur, he could not play in the PGA Championship.
NT = No tournament
DNP = Did not play
DNQ = Did not qualify for match play portion
R256, R128, R64, R32, R16, QF, SF = Round in which player lost in match play
"T" indicates a tie for a place
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10

Source for U.S. Amateur: USGA Championship Database

Source for 1904 British Amateur: Golf, July 1904, pg. 6.

Source for 1907 British Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, May 29, 1907, pg. 12.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Leonard, John William (1922). Who's Who in Finance and Banking. Who's Who in Finance Inc. p. 110.
  2. ^ "Travis Out Of The Race". New York Tribune. July 18, 1902. p. 5. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Wade, Don; McCord, Gary. And Then Arnie Told Chi Chi... McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. 33–4. ISBN 0-8092-3549-8.
  4. ^ a b "Radium Drinks". Time. April 11, 1932. Retrieved June 22, 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Eben M. Byers: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Amateur Golf, Modern Medicine and the FDA" (PDF). Allegheny Cemetery Heritage. Fall 2004. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  6. ^ "Radium Cures". museumofquackery.com.
  7. ^ "Death Stirs Action on Radium 'Cures'. Trade Commission Speeds Its Inquiry. Health Department Checks Drug Wholesalers. Autopsy Shows Symptoms. Maker of "Radithor" Denies It Killed Byers, as Does Victim's Physician in Pittsburgh. Walker Uses Apparatus. Friends Alarmed to Find Mayor Has Been Drinking Radium-Charged Water for Last Six Months". The New York Times. April 2, 1932. Retrieved 2011-10-01. Federal and local agencies, as well as medical authorities in various parts of the country, were stirred to action yesterday as a result of the death of Eben M. Byers, wealthy Pittsburgh steel manufacturer and sportsman, who died here Wednesday at the Doctors' Hospital from causes attributed to radium poisoning resulting from the drinking of water containing radium in solution. ...
  8. ^ Stipp, David (June 9, 2003). "A Little Poison Can Be Good For You The received wisdom about toxins and radiation may be all wet". Fortune. Retrieved June 22, 2008.
  9. ^ Evans, Robley D. (1933). "Radium Poisoning a Review of Present Knowledge *". American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health. 23 (10): 1017. doi:10.2105/AJPH.23.10.1017-b. PMC 1558329.
  10. ^ Harvie, David I. (2005). Deadly Sunshine: The History and Fatal Legacy of Radium (1 ed.). Tempus Publishing Limited. pp. 160–161. ISBN 0-7524-3395-4.

Further reading[edit]

  • Roger M. Macklis, "The Great Radium Scandal", Scientific American, 269(2), pp. 94–99, August 1993.