The Revigator: Nob Hill Goes Nuclear

In the early twentieth century, there was a San Francisco concern called the Radium Ore Revigator Company. Their business was selling water crocks, and in particular, radioactive water crocks:

For Every Home


Radioactivity was a very new and ill-understood thing in those days, and so the following logic made sense: the water from hot springs was radioactive, and everybody knew spring water was healthy, ergo, if you could make your daily water radioactive, you’d be healthier. Evidently, this was popular enough in the 1920s for them to buy a building, as this inscription above a Revigator’s spout will attest:

Radium Ore Revigator Co., Revigator Building, San Francisco, Cal.

I found out about this whole affair from Theodore Gray‘s Periodic Table Table website. The idea behind the Table was that this fellow decided that he needed to build a table in the shape of the periodic table, and to collect samples of each of the elements, and then to make a remarkable and entertaining website about the whole business–check it out, but be warned that it’s addictive, if you like that sort of thing.

In any event, among his samples of uranium are a Revigator and a booklet about them. The booklet is remarkable reading, including such pearls of wisdom as “The invigorating effect is due to the radio-activity of Niton, or emanation, a radio-active gas continuously produced by the Carnotite Ore and which gas is then absorbed by the water.” (Carnotite is one of the principal ores of uranium, along with pitchblende; the Revigator jars were lined with it. Niton is now known as radon.) It also has a picture of the building, and its address–Sutter and Taylor Streets:

Revigator Building drawing

The Radium Ore Revigator Company is long-gone–as near as I can tell, it went under in the 1930s, the victim of the Depression and the burgeoning awareness that ingesting radioactive materials was a good way to get sick. But if you look at the satellite photo in the link above, you might see a building with the same crenellations as those in the drawing of the Revigator Building at the southeast corner of Sutter and Taylor. And if you go to that corner, you’ll see the Revigator Building itself:

Revigator Building, Sutter & Taylor

It currently houses an art importer’s store and a framing shop. The awning for Nob Hill Cigars is still visible on the corner unit, but they’ve also left the world of commerce, probably another victim of an economic downturn and a vogue for something that turned out to be very unhealthy.

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