It was 1921 when 17-year –old Frances Splettstocher landed a job at the Waterbury Clock Company on Cherry Street. It was a glamorous job, for she and her young colleagues worked with radium – the wonder substance of the new century. The girls used their keen eyes and nimble fingers to paint tiny numbers on glow-in-the-dark watches that were all the rage at the moment. World War I soldiers had worn the futuristic devices in the trenches, and now in peacetime everyone wanted one, so Splettstocher and dozens like her were hired to help produce millions of the watches during the early 1920s.
Many of the women pressed their brushes between their lips before dipping them in the radium-laced paint to give their small brushes a nice, fine point. The gritty-textured paint tasted no worse than Elmer’s glue, but it had a strange effect: It made their mouths glow in the dark. This didn’t bother the girls, who stole moments at work to paint their dress buttons and fingernails, and glowing rings on their fingers. “They loved their jobs,” said Claudia Clark, author of a book about the dial-painters called “Radium Girls”. “These were the best jobs working-class girls could get.”
But some would pay for these jobs with their lives.