Uranium, In My Cupboard? It’s More Likely Than You Think!

By Selen M. B. | Saturday, February 4, 2023

You come across a yellowish glass cup or plate in your grandmother’s kitchen. She’s had it for years, and she regularly serves you food on it. One day, when the lights are out, you pull out your UV flashlight and play with it, checking various objects in your grandmother’s house. Maybe you watched a documentary on crime and wanted to investigate in hopes of revealing a mystery. That’s when you notice something strange in the kitchen. Your grandmother's favorate glass plate is fluorescing in a bright green color! But how?, you think to yourself and try to find an explanation.

Yes, it’s uranium glass.

The trend started in the 1800s in Central Europe. Uranium was a very efficient element, especially if you wanted to make beautiful yellow or green glassware. Of course, the radioactive nature of these glasses were not known to 19th-century glassmakers, and they saw no issue with their craft. Now, don’t be alarmed, the level of radioactivity in these glasses were not in any way sufficient to cause harm, but if one has a Geiger counter with them, they are sure to get a positive reading. Josef Reidel is credited as the creator of uranium glass in 1830 under the name Annagruen and Annagelb for the green and yellow colors (Gruen is green, and Gelb is yellow in German). Anna alludes to his wife, Anna Maria. His factory in Bohemia (current day Czech Republic) produced these glasses for 18 years. This fashion of glasses spread to France, where the Choisy-le-Roi factory started making them. In 1843, a new type of Uranium glassware was invented in France called chrysoprase with an opaque-green color.

The latter half of the 19th century saw new production methods. With the addition of heat-sensitive chemicals, the glass gained a milky-white color with yellow edges. The public began calling these glasses vaseline glass in the 1930s, as the appearance of these glasses resembled the famous balm with its yellowish milky color. Most companies preferred this name over the scary uranium reference

During World War II, the production of these glasses ceased in the US due to government restrictions on Uranium for the Manhattan Project from 1942 to

  1. As these restrictions were repealed, several manufacturers restarted production. However, uranium was still regarded as a strategic metal, and regulations continued until the end of the Cold War. Following this period, old glassware was also reintroduced to the market, and production of uranium glass continued well into the 2000s.

If you’re a regular thrifter interested in a collection, you can go to your local thrift shop and check out the glassware section. It’s easy to spot these glasses if you bring an ultra-violet light with you on your trip. As long as there aren’t any cracks on the glasses, you can use them safely. So no need to be alarmed; your grandma is safe, and so are you!

If you find this topic interesting, be sure to check out the Experimental series on Chemistry at Schoolhouse! I’m planning on making a series on the history of chemistry and everyday chemicals, so be on the lookout if that sounds

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