Excerpts from the book "How Design Changed America" by Henry Keck
Early in 1955 a retired executive from Honeywell, a large company famous for their wall thermostats including the Henry Dreyfuss iconic design, The Honeywell Round, came to us with a small project. He wanted to start a small company to keep himself busy and to provide jobs for his two sons. His idea was to use a special characteristic of radioactive polonium in brushes used by photographers to dust off photographic transparencies. These plastic products collect dust in the normal way but also by attracting dust with the electrostatic charge which builds up on their non-conductive surfaces. Polonium, first discovered by Madame Curie in 1898, has the unusual characteristic of emitting Alpha particles. These particles ionize the surrounding air making it electrically conductive. Thus, when a brush to which a tape of polonium has been attached, glides over the surface of a transparency, the dust is removed and the static charge that would attract more dust is dissipated.
The concept our client had was to develop a brush with very soft bristles which would have attached to it a ribbon of metal containing radioactive polonium. The idea was good and it worked. We developed a series of large and small brushes which our client manufactured and sold for a number of years. The polonium was placed behind a screen and strong warnings were provided not to place the brush in anyone’s mouth. Of course the brushes were large enough so that placing a brush in the mouth would be a difficult feat. We had very strict manufacturing standards and adhered closely to the strictures of United States Atomic Energy Department.
After a number of profitable years the company was sold to The 3M Company a very large operation with many diverse products.