Date: 29 Nov 2008

Tauschwirtschaft, Reputationsökonomie, Bürokratie

Changing Economies. Exchange, Symbolic Capital and Bureaucracy in the Radium Market before the First World War

The newly discovered radioactive substance radium was the most important research object in the early years of radioactivity research. It was very promising with regard to medicine and a notable curiosity. Radium, however, was not easy to get hold off - at least not in all times and places. This paper analyses the changing structure of the radium market up to 1914. During the first years, radium could be acquired only through personal relationships to those few researchers who were capable of producing it themselves. When the first chemical companies decided to begin radium production, radium could be bought (almost) like other commodities. This was not to last for long, however, since the Austrian government had already stopped exports of the pertinent raw material by 1904. The mineral was exploited by the Austrian academy of sciences, which distributed the radium obtained from it to those researchers who seemed the most deserving. When Austrian radium production increased, radium became a commodity again, albeit it was traded within highly monopolized structures. Radium’s astronomical price made the importance of a standard and reliable measurement procedures acutely felt and soon transformed the selling and buying of radium into a highly bureaucratized scientific procedure. These drastically changing conditions under which radium had to be obtained make clear that chemical substances, like instruments, have a history of their own.