This project (2018-1-ES01-KA203-050606) has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Select language   >   EL ES IT RO EN

Digital Objects

Back to Digital Objects

Röntgen Tube - An X-ray generator

Place where the object is located
This tube was purchased from a private owner in Germany and presented to the Smithsonian Institution in 1956 by the General Electric Company's X-ray Department of Milwaukee, Wisc. It is part of a very large and rich radiology collection at NMAH.
Story of the object
One night, Wilhelm Röntgen discovered a phenomenon completely by chance that went on to become a specialized medical discipline that would help millions of patients worldwide.
On 8 November 1895 at the University of Würzburg, Germany, the physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovers a new, unknown type of rays, which he names X-rays.
Like most physicists of his day, Röntgen was studying electric discharges in glass vacuum tubes...
He would use photography to document his findings.
Two days before Christmas in 1895, he took an X-ray of the hand of his wife, Anna Bertha.
And radiology was born.
Shortly before New Year’s Eve in 1895, Röntgen submitted his manuscript for publication to the secretary of the Physics and Medical Society in Würzburg.
In early January 1986, he received the prints.
He sent them, along with nine X-ray images, to some of his physics colleagues in Europe.
The famous physicist Lord Kelvin replied stating that he had looked at the images “with great interest”.
However, he expressed some doubt over their authenticity.
One physicist believed that he had been “told a fairy tale.”
The Austrian newspaper ‘Die Presse’ is the first to report on the new rays on 5 January 1896. Journalists get carried away by ‘fantastical future speculations à la Jules Verne’: the diagnosis of bone fractures, the detection of foreign bodies, and cross-sectional images of the human body. These would all later become reality.
People are fascinated by the new possibilities of looking inside things. Everything is X-rayed.
An impressive amount of detail can be seen in these early X-rays.
Alongside the X-ray mania during these early days, scientists begin to ask questions. What type of matter can be penetrated by X-rays, and what cannot?
A social debate also takes place. On the one hand, there is hope for medical miracles, and on the other, the fear of loss of privacy.
The dream of the transparent human comes true for medicine with the discovery of X-rays.
The first X-ray facilities in Germany, England, France and the U.S. open in the spring of 1896.
In addition to bone fractures, impalpable foreign bodies can now be rendered visible. This is useful for a surgeon performing an operation to remove a foreign body.
Images of soft body parts, such as organs and vessels, cannot be produced with X-rays. The rays pass through them with barely any resistance. It is not until contrast agents are invented that such images become possible.
The quality of the X-ray tubes is also improved.
Doctors can regulate the type and amount of X-rays in a consistent and reproducible manner.
At first the new rays are used indiscriminately, which inevitably results in serious injuries. Radiation burns disappear initially. But many X-ray doctors and assistants suffer long-term damage, such as cancer or the loss of hands and arms. How can they effectively protect themselves?
The severity of the skin damage depends on the amount of X-rays it receives. The first instruments for measuring the amount of X-rays absorbed by the body significantly help reduce radiation damage in the clinics.
X-rays are used in medicine on a large scale for the first time during World War I. Experiences from field hospitals confirm that modern medicine is not possible without X-rays.

Unit of the Educational Material connected (5 - 1)
This is one of the first x-ray tubes used by physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen (1845-1923), who discovered this new form of radiation at the University of Wurzburg in Germany, on November 8, 1895. While experimenting with cathode rays by passing an electric current through a glass vacuum tube covered with black paper, he noticed an unexpected green glow on a little screen covered with phosphorescent paint lying on his bench. He quickly realized that some mysterious invisible rays were leaving the tube, going through the black paper, and causing the screen to become luminous. These unknown, or "x" rays were shown to pass easily through wood, cloth, and paper, but not denser material. He showed that they could even pass through the skin and reveal the bones of the human hand. The medical diagnostic and therapeutic implications of the x-ray were realized quickly. X-ray imaging remains the most widely used form of body imaging today.