Eben Byers

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
Golfer Eben M. Byers.jpg
Byers in 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)
PGA ChampionshipDNP
U.S. OpenCUT: 1908
The Open ChampionshipDNP
U.S. AmateurWon: 1906
British AmateurT17: 1904


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 for having an over-active libido. 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 Byers injured his arm falling from a railway sleeping berth. For the persistent pain a doctor suggested 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, a solution of radium in water which he claimed stimulated the endocrine system. He offered physicians a 1/6 kickback on each dose prescribed.[5]

Byers began taking several doses of Radithor per day, believing it gave him a "toned-up feeling", but stopped in October 1930 (after taking some 1400 doses) when that effect faded. He lost weight and had headaches, and his teeth began to fall out. In 1931 the Federal Trade Commission asked him to testify about his experience, but he was too sick to travel so the commission sent a lawyer to take his statement at his home; the lawyer reported that Byers's "whole upper jaw, excepting two front teeth and most of his lower jaw had been removed" and that "All the remaining bone tissue of his body was disintegrating, and holes were actually forming in his skull."[6]

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]


Byers's death received much publicity and it heightened awareness of the dangers of radioactive "cures".[7]

The Federal Trade Commission issued an order against Bailey's business to "cease and desist from various representations theretofore made by them as to the therapeutic value of Radithor and from representing that the product Radithor is harmless".[8] He later founded the "Radium Institute" in New York and marketed a radioactive belt-clip, a radioactive paperweight, and a mechanism which purported to make water radioactive.[9]

After exhuming Byers's body in 1965, MIT physicist Robley Evans estimated Byers' total radium intake as about 1000 μCi.[10]

Major championshipsEdit

Amateur wins (1)Edit

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

Results timelineEdit

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 alsoEdit


  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. ^ Wade, Don; McCord, Gary (September 1994). 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 13, 2016. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  6. ^ Winslow, Ron (August 1, 1990). "The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off". Wall Street Journal. p. A1.
  7. ^ a b "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. ^ "Radithor (ca. 1925-1928)". ORAU. 1931-12-19. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Evans, Robley D. (September 1981). "Inception of Standards for Internal Emitters, Radon and Radium". Health Physics. 41 (3): 437–448. doi:10.1097/00004032-198012000-00028. PMID 7026502. S2CID 35163866.

Further readingEdit