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.