Madame Marie Curie visited Schenectady on October 22 to 24, 1929, during her second (and final) tour of the U.S. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Curie embarked on the 1929 American tour to receive a $50,000 donation to purchase a sample of radium for the Polish Radium Institute in Warsaw. Due to her fragile health and discomfort with the public appearances, Curie’s trip was limited. Her tour included a celebration honoring Thomas Edison and the 50th anniversary of the invention of the incandescent light bulb, a tour of the GE labs, the dedication a building at St. Lawrence University, and a reception at the White House with President Hoover.
Curie poses with scientists and executives from General Electric, Oct.
23, 1929. Photo from the Larry Hart Photograph Collection,
Mme. Curie’s visit to Schenectady started with a spot of subterfuge. She departed Detroit, MI, by train on Oct. 22, the morning after Edison’s celebration. The press was told she would arrive at Union Station in Schenectady around 2pm and stay for two days at the Van Curler Hotel. Excited residents arranged to greet her, including a display and presentation of flowers by local Polish-American. However, the crowd would be disappointed. Due to chronic pain and ill health as well as a generally private demeanor, Mme. Curie had previously requested that she be allowed privacy and limited public appearances. Her GE hosts, Dr. W.R. Whitney, Dr. W.D. Coolidge, and E.W. Rice Jr., arranged for Curie to arrive at the train station in Amsterdam where she transferred to a car and was driven to a secret location in Schenectady known only to a handful of tour organizers. When the train arrived at Union Station, a small group of GE scientists departed, but the press and the awaiting crowd quickly realized that the celebrated Nobel Laureate was not among them. The press soon discovered that her reservation at the Van Curler had been canceled and speculated that she was staying at the private home of one GE’s executives.
|Clipping from the Schenectady Gazette, Oct. 23, 1929. |
Mme. Curie inspected the GE facilities on Oct. 23. According to the Schenectady Gazette, Mme. Curie was “the absolute mistress of the extensive laboratories” and “permitted to make any experiment she cared to and to use all the apparatus that interested her.” In deference to her privacy and comfort, the buildings were minimally staffed and no employees were notified of her whereabouts. The newspaper reported, “Never in the history of the city have so many precautions been taken and never has there been so much mystery surrounding the housing and movements of any of the world’s celebrities who have visited the big plant of General Electric Company…” Dr. Coolidge was her primary guide. She returned to her secret lodgings and presumably spent a quiet evening with her hosts and her traveling companion, Mrs. William B. Meloney. The next day, Owen Young, chairman of the GE’s board of directors, drove Curie to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.
To learn more about Mme. Curie’s visit to St. Lawrence University, read the Adirondack Almanack blog: https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2018/02/science-royalty-once-visited-the-north-country.html