Medicine: Rat Poison

Besides being a man of varied talents and striking personality, the late Robert T. Nelson was a great talker. Before his death in 1935, he awed his friends' by being able to discourse windily for hours on almost any subject. Among his accomplishments was his "discovery," around 1918, of an "element" now called vrilium, to which he attributed prodigious curative powers. Nelson did not explain exactly what he thought vrilium was, but he did claim that it was "radioactive."

In the early 20s, Nelson started packaging a pinch of vrilium inside an ordinary two-inch-long brass cylinder. Popularly called "The Magic Spike,"...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!