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Above: NRD's most popular consumer product - the Staticmaster® one inch wide brush (81,216 bytes)
Click on image to see enlarged view (214,854 bytes)

NRD STATICMASTER® STATIC CONTROL PRODUCTS INTRODUCTION

NRD LLC, currently owned by automotive systems and components manufacturer Mark IV Industries Inc., is the world’s largest and most experienced manufacturer of ionization sources for the home safety and industrial passive ionization and static control markets. NRD is an innovator in technology and products using Alpha and Beta emitters in encapsulated metallic foil. Their proprietary technology is used in a wide range of products and industries including industrial static eliminators, analytical equipment, gas chromatographs, smoke detectors, and explosives detectors. They remain a specialty source for ECD & IMS devices, and in addition they manufacture specialty ionizers for the auto body collision industry and the photographic market. The specially designed equipment and processes, along with a comprehensive quality assurance program (that must comply with Federal regulations), ensure these products meet the highest practical quality standards set by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Several of Company Seven’s founders became familiar with NRD in the late 1970’s through their use of Staticmaster ionizing and electronic static control products. The Staticmaster® brushes which have been used for decades in the audio, optics, and film industries have been gaining acceptance in the computer and electronics manufacturing industries as well. For decades since Company Seven has recommended these brushes as an essential component of any well equipped telescope or camera (DSLR or film) cleaning kit.

While some of us took some interest in cataloging Staticmaster information, this article came about from our desire to 1. know what we are talking about, and 2. inform our own customers while making for interesting reading at company7.com. While the antique brushes featured here are somewhat rare, we do not think of them as collectible or particularly valuable. Maybe more people in the future may better appreciate their history particularly in context of their times, and their place in the history of film photography and audio records.

History:

The “Staticmaster” is a static control product that incorporates the familiar bristle brush but mated to a thin films of encapsulated radioactive metal product that emits alpha particles. The concept seems to originate with the U.S. Patent 2479882 titled “RADIOACTIVE METAL PRODUCTS AND METHOD FOR MANUFACTURING” by Clarence W. Wallhausen and Harry H. Dooley, Morristown, and Clayton 0. Carroll, Madison, N. J., assignors to United States Radium Corporation, New York, N. Y., a corporation of Delaware. The application was filed on 14 March 1946 and granted on 23 August 1949.

Company Seven’s archives include literature and a collection of Nuclear Products Company “Staticmaster” anti-static brushes with their original packaging and documents. From our archives Company Seven can date Nuclear Products Company back to the Summer of 1949; their earliest known advertising appears in a monthly trade magazine issue dated October 1949. On October 27 the Staticmaster trademark registration was formalized. Then their address was 424 So. Broadway, Los Angeles 13, California. The ten-story office building, still known as the Judson C. Rives Building, was completed in 1906 and advertised as the first commercial high-rise in Los Angeles historic downtown area. By 1951 Nuclear Products Company had moved to 2150 Newport Boulevard, Costa Mesa, CA and this is the address listed on their literature accompanying the brushes made then. This commercial lot still houses one of the oldest homes in the community, even though some of the land and buildings that made up the parcel in the early 1950’s has since been subdivided.

The earliest production versions of the Staticmaster brushes were their 1 inch and 3 inch wide models. At first glance these resemble a standard painting bristle brush with a conventionally styled wooden handle but with a ferrule made to incorporate an encapsulated Polonium 210 (Po210) Alpha radiation source housed behind a protective metal grid, this to prevent tampering. As the brush passed nearby the surface to be cleaned then the source neutralizes the static cling, otherwise that static attraction would make it difficult to brush or blow dust off of some surfaces and keep static cling from attracting the particle back onto the surface; this static attraction is particularly troublesome in cold and or dry environments. These brushes were initially marketed to the audio and photography industries to facilitate the removal of dust and to neutralize static build up, their first advertisements feature the slogan “Science Stops Dust”.

Left: 1952 production Staticmaster brush with red packing carton and instruction/certificate sheet (38,408 bytes). In the collection of Company Seven.
Click on image to see enlarged view (129,052 bytes).

The oldest Staticmaster brush we own is one of the original style wood-handled 1 inch models from mid 1951 production; these bear a yellow on black stick-on label affixed to the top of the ferrule reading “STATIC-MASTER, NUCLEAR PRODUCTS CO., COSTA MESA, CALIFORNIA U.S.A.”. By 1952 this is a blue on white warning sticker reading “CAUTION Do not touch radioactive strip (under grid). Keep away from children. See instructions NUCLEAR PRODUCTS CO. COSTA MESA, CALIF. This STATIC-MASTER guaranteed until xxx 195x” with the month and year 1950, 1951, 1952, or 1953 rubber stamped onto the label. By early 1952 the top label is a sticker that reads simply STATICMASTER, as does the lid of the red packing carton. This leaves us wondering if the developers of the product had considered naming it Static Master as these labels were ordered from a printer and before settling on the final, and later trademarked name, Staticmaster.

About the year after the original style brushes were introduced, and while still based at Costa Mesa, the Nuclear Products Company introduced their redesigned Staticmaster brush in a 3 inch wide version (shown below at right). The second generation 3 inch model appeared distinct and more like a custom designed brush, with a black painted wide wooden handle but with an angular grilled ferrule incorporating one long strip of the Polonium 210. To the present day the Staticmaster is made in both 1 and in 3 inch wide versions.

By about 1953 the company relocated to 10173 East Rush Street, El Monte, California. By this time the 1 inch wide brush had acquired a new styling too, this second generation featuring a tapered shape with rounded corners that was to be the basis of their production models from then throughout the early 1960’s. These consist of a plastic molded body with a wide opening at the front to accept the brush and the grated housing holding the encapsulated Polonium 210 panel. The earliest of these bodies are of light gray with white STATICMASTER lettering, through in the fall of 1954 the color of the handle transitioned to black, still with the white STATICMASTER lettering. These brushes now bore a metal plate indicating the make, cautions, and with the expiration date stamped on the plate. Examples of this style of brushes and with their original storage cartons are illustrated below.

1.25 inch brushes in Company Seven's collection (177,439 bytes) “3
Above: Staticmaster 1 inch brushes. That below with a silver carton expired April 1955 while the one with its label showing and yellow carton expired March 1958 (177,439 bytes).
At the right is a 3 inch Staticmaster, probably made in 1952 it’s Polonium element expired Nov. 1953 (94,062 bytes). All are in the collection of Company Seven’s museum and archives.
Click on images to see enlarged views (177,439 and 206,636 bytes).

3 inch brushes in Company Seven's collection (82,834 bytes) The 3 inch brush was redesigned in 1957 to a form that resembled a stubby version of the then production 1 inch model, and with rounded ferrule. The earlier versions of these third generation 3 inch brushes bear labeling on the top of the ferrule, in the lower case “staticmaster”, and on the line below “RECORD BRUSH”. This indicates how important the record cleaning market for these brushes was then. By 1959, and since then too, the 3 inch brushes labeling changed to simply bear the “staticmaster” trade possibly reflecting the increased popularity of these brushes for the photography market too.

Right: Staticmaster 3 inch brushes. The one at left is a Model 3T 125 manufactured in 1959, the other is a current production version Model 3C 500 shown with its bristles extended from the ferrule. These are in the collection of Company Seven’s museum and archives (82,834 bytes).
Click on image to see enlarged view (214,049 bytes).

These 3 inch brushes bear their Polonium 210 expiration date printed on the inside lip of the metal cartridge. Labeling there also indicated the model number, 3R 500 or 3T 125 for example. The cartridge could be removed from the brush body by the user and the Polonium 210 element could be replaced by the user; a new 3 inch cartridge then selling for $4.95 while that for the 1 inch brush (1S 200) sold for $3.70.

By about 1964 the Staticmaster 1 inch brush arrangements would again change to their current tan plastic housings. The 3 inch brush remained basically the same, though colors of the moulded body varied (ivory, dark blue - shown above right, bright blue, tan) until the end of the 1960’s when these too were redesigned to a molded tan colored handle with angular edges and ferrule, and having the added feature of the bristles being retractable into the housing thus affording 1. better protection and more compact stowage, and 2. the capability to stiffen the bristles by retracting their tips closer to the ferrule. The original models were designated simply 1 inch or 3 inch Staticmaster. Since the early 1960’s the model designation for the 1 inch models has been 1C 50 through about 1969, that later changed to 1C 200 and remains the current model designation. The 3 inch brushes have borne the model designations 3R 500, then 3C 125, 3T 125, and later 3C 500 that incorporate two strips of Polonium 210 arranged side by aide.

The packaging provided with new Staticmaster brushes evolved over the years with some changes simply reflecting taste or marketing strategies, some afforded practical improvements or cost cutting. The original packing carton featured a deep red exterior (shown above left) that prominently bore the company name “Nuclear Products Co.” When the brush designs changed in about 1951 the was provided carton was finished in silver that more prominently featured the Staticmaster trade name and below that in smaller type was the company name all in green. By about 1953 they changed the carton to a silver on black with red trim, then to a yellow on black with red carton as shown above left of center. From 1958 through the late 1960’s the brushes were provided in a clear plastic hinged lid box, that set was packaged in a natural paper carton sleeve. Some of the early plastic cases provided with the larger 3 inch brush bore the embossed message on their lid “THE POLONIUM STRIP DOES THE TRICK”. Then through the 1970’s in an orange-red carton; neither of the latter made any mention of Nuclear Products Co.

By 1976 the carton was an even simpler but more contemporary styled black box and with the STATICMASTER trade name in silver across the top cover and on the end with the model number, but with no mention of the company name. In the Fall of 1979 the packaging changed to a carton with a brown wood print covering and with no labeling at all (as shown at the bottom left of this page) and with no mention of the company name. In the early 1990’s the brushes were furnished with a flexible plastic pouch with flap closure provided in a lightweight hangable display box. By about 2000 NRD reverted to the carton similar to the wood grain style but with a white on blue marbled pattern printed covering as shown below at right, the set provided in a lightweight hangable display box. Current production brushes include no protective storage carton whatsoever, instead the brushes are sold in a lightweight hangable display box as shown at the top of this page.

In 1969 the Nuclear Products Company was acquired and was renamed NRD with production remaining in El Monte, California until this was relocated to Grand Island, New York some twenty years later. On 13 August 1984 the company filed to change it’s registration to NRD, Inc., still based in New York state. On 23 December 1993 NRD, Inc relocated their corporation to Delaware. On 23 April 1998 NRD, Inc. filed to change its corporate structure and effective 10 March 1999 operated as NRD, LLC (limited liability corporation) while the former NRD Inc. was formally dissolved on 11 April 2000. In 2007 NRD, LLC was acquired by Mark Iv Industries, Inc., a New York based corporation, and NRD continues operation (NRC License No. 31-28397-01G) even after a tumultuous time that included reorganization of the parent company and its subsidiaries in 2009.

Staticmaster® and Polonium:

Polonium was first extracted from pitchblende in 1898 by physicists Pierre Curie and Marie Curie working at their laboratory in the Ecole de Physique et de Chimie Industrielle in Paris. It was they who named the newly discovered element after Marie’s homeland, Poland. Polonium like many other elements along this line, is very toxic and rare compared to radioactive uranium and radium that are far more common.

We at Company Seven were particularly surprised to learn about the early consumer uses of this product since some of us had known Polonium was among those materials developed for the Manhattan Project. It was a Polonium-based modulated neutron initiator that was used to start the chain reactions in the first atomic bombs. Polonium and beryllium were key ingredients of the implosion-type nuclear ’urchin’ detonator at the center of the bomb’s spherical plutonium pit; it was this type of bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. The role of Polonium in these weapons remained classified until well into the 1960’s.

Right: left to right are 1954, 1953 (gray), and 1957 production Staticmaster brushes with a mid 1950’s carton (38,408 bytes).
In the collection of Company Seven.
Click on image to see enlarged view (99,226 bytes).

The half-life of the encapsulated radioactive Polonium 210 material is 138.4 days, so about (14) months since manufacture have elapsed the radioactive activity of the Polonium 210 has reduced to about 12.5% of its original level. One year after production it retains 17% of it's original level of activity, and so the manufacturer suggests this is when the cartridge should be replaced in order to maintain optimal static control of your process. So a brush that bears an expiration date of July 2014 for example contains a cartridge that was made one year before then. After its effectiveness has diminished, this cartridge can be removed from the Staticmaster brush ferrule by the owner and returned to NRD for safe disposal. A replacement cartridge can be ordered to regain the effectiveness of the Staticmaster.


The Staticmaster is not a toy!

Staticmaster 1 inch brush with radiation burn to the lid, in Company Seven's collection (98,265 bytes) Do not leave these out for children to play with. Nor should you store a Staticmaster near your skin, such as in your shirt or pants pocket, when you are not using it.

Right: Staticmaster 1 inch brush and marbled blue storage carton. Note radiation burns accumulated over time inside the lid; the burn pattern corresponds to that of the metal grill over the Polonium 210. Used by the owner of Company Seven - coincidentally who made no children (98,265 bytes).
Click on images to see enlarged view (161,764 bytes).

In order to protect the brush do not contaminate it by touching it with your fingers or to surfaces that have been contaminated by oils. Fingers too emit oils and enzymes that can contaminate the brush, after then anything else you try to clean with a dirty brush will in turn be contaminated. So it is good practice to wash your hands before attempting work on optics, film slides or negatives, etc., even better to wear disposable or clean gloves too while working on sensitive items. If the brush becomes contaminated then the bristles with an alcohol or mild clear soap solution, do so gently and without pulling the bristles.

When not in use store the Staticmaster in its provided carton or in some other hard shell container that does not put pressure on the flexible brush bristles.

Side Notes about TMI, Litvinenko, Arafat, and Polonium:

When the Staticmaster products first came onto the market in 1949 the term “nuclear” promised a wondrous future of great advances and a better life however over the recent decades there have occurred some events that took off some of the luster. Though these events had nothing to do directly with the Staticmaster products, the events likely impacted some people’s perception of nuclear technologies:

  • The Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident that occurred on 28 March 28 1979 was the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history up to that time. The incident raised public awareness about issues pertaining to nuclear safety and radioactive materials handling, and helped to coalesce some public groups into lobbying against nuclear power. This incident and the types of materials employed in the nuclear reactors have nothing to do with short-lived radioactive materials that are vital components of many consumer products including smoke detectors, and Staticmaster® products.

  • In November 2006 the former KGB agent and later Kremlin whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned and later died apparently from drinking tea laced with the radioactive element Polonium 210. Polonium’s alpha particles do not travel far and can be blocked by materials as simple as a sheet of paper. But if ingested then the radiation will cause cellular damage and ultimately death. Experts concluded Litvinenko ingested more than enough Polonium 210 to cause the acute radiation sickness that killed him. The police consider his death to have been murder, although the London coroner’s inquest remains open.

  • Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in November 2004, but in 2012 his body was exhumed in an effort to determine whether his death was caused by Polonium 210 poisoning. Whether or not this was true, the story brought Polonium 210 back into the news.

Regardless, the word “nuclear” became a highly sensitizing term in marketing. We observed the word disappear from the labeling of many products and from the memory of many.

The Path To NRD:

When the author of this article interviewed some people who work at NRD, Inc. to ask where the company originated, none could recall much about that. None could tell me what the abbreviation NRD might have originally represented, other than the first word may have been nuclear. My search of Patent records found US3818545 A indicated this was Nuclear Radiation Development, Inc. Researching the records I came to better comprehend where the name NRD originated, and why one does not see its full name very often: in no small measure it is likely because of its relationship to the U.S. Radium Corporation.

NRD’s history goes back to 1914 when the Radium Luminous Material Corporation was established by Dr. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky and Dr. George S. Willis in New York City. In August 1921 the company was renamed the United States Radium Corporation. The company prospered but would become infamous for its innovative glow in the dark (luminescent) paint, marketed from 1917 to 1938 under the trade name “UNDARK”. Undark was a mixture of radium and zinc sulfide where the radiation caused the sulfide to fluoresce. This paint was applied to watches, dials, and to other equipment that needed to be read in low light conditions. Unfortunately, it was not until 1924 when the risks of working with these materials were established by Dr. H.S. Martland. By then the casual exposure had led to many needless employee illnesses and deaths, most prominently were those of the “Radium Girls”. The company co-founder, Dr. von Sochocky, died in November 1928 also of aplastic anemia resulting from exposure to the radioactive materials.

U.S. Radium ceased radium processing altogether in 1968 spinning off the luminescent paint operations as Nuclear Radiation Development Corporation, LLC, based in Grand Island, New York. The U.S. Radium factory facilities in Morristown, New Jersey remained contaminated by radioactive materials until cleaned up with assistance of the Environmental Protection Agency Superfund (yeah, among those agencies that some Republican candidates for office promise to close) between 1997 and 2005.

The original Staticmaster products came out in 1949, just as the U.S. Patent 2479882 was granted to the United States Radium Corporation. This and other facts raise questions about whether or not the Nuclear Products Co. or its founders were somehow involved with U.S. Radium Corporation? Or was Nuclear Products Company a subsidiary company, simply absorbed in the spinning off of Nuclear Radiation Development Corporation (NRD), and its offices relocated to New York? Notes in our archives of a meeting on 17 December 1957 between U.S. Government and U.S. Radium Corp. personnel relate how the question arose about what were the melting points of the foil and of the Polonium? This might have been in the context of assessing the risks of Staticmasters when exposed to fire. The notes indicate “Mr. Dooley agreed that U.S. Radium should make such tests since they were the manufacturers of the foil.”

But keep it in mind that there appear to have been no published instances of death or injury involving any Staticmaster product. Furthermore, these products are considered by regulators to be so safely packaged a commercial product that anyone in the US can buy and posses these products.


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