6 Funny Facts About The History Of Radiology

radiology history, fun facts about radiology

Radiology or medical imaging has always played a strong role within healthcare to help diagnose and treat patients. Rarely does a patient go through the healthcare system without needing at least one imaging test of some kind such as an x-ray or CT scan. Most commonly, patients will spend some level of time waiting for their exam or results. Time often spent contemplating the notion of radiation. Luckily today, radiology centers are regulated by the strongest of rules related to radiation exposure and dosage. Yet, as a patient, it is easy to worry about the unknown.

At Bay Imaging Consultants, we often get strange repetitive remarks from patients wanting to know if they would “glow” from their x-rays or set off metal detectors. I even had patients who wanted to know if their skin would burn from too many images. Some said it out of humor and some from sheer terror, regardless, many perceptions that patients have about the world of radiology stems from things they have read about the early day shenanigans and real life tragedies scientists faced when discovering this “unknown” ray called “x”. Thankfully, radiology has come a long way since those days.

1. “I HAVE SEEN MY DEATH!”

This famous quote was said by the wife of William Roentgen, a German scientist who discovered x-rays by accident while studying the pathways of electricity in 1895. Used as a guinea pig, Roentgen’s wife put her hand on a photographic plate in the pathway of these unknown “x” rays for over thirty minutes to produce the first ever x-ray of her hand… wedding ring included. Upon seeing the image, she exclaimed that she had seen her own death.

2. “I SHALL CALL THEM “X” RAYS!”

Roentgen’s discovery of these mysterious rays that were unlike any other happened by sheer accident while he was experimenting with the paths of electrical rays through an induction coil and glass tube. Although the room was dark, he noticed a screen covered in the fluorescent material was glowing from the rays. An electromagnetic ray in the same family as gamma rays and microwaves, Roentgen named these unknown rays “x” rays. He would also refuse to patent his discoveries claiming that all of humankind should benefit from them.

3. MARK TWAIN, A SCREW, AND NIKOLA TESLA.

An unlikely combination, however, it is believed that scientist Nikola Tesla produced the first x-ray in the US shortly after Roentgen. Using his good friend, the famous writer Mark Twain as his subject, his attempt to take Twain’s x-ray using a vacuum tube resulted in an image of a screw for adjusting the camera lens instead. He would go on to perfect his images of the human body shortly thereafter and call them shadowgraphs.

4. EVEN THOMAS EDISON WAS AFRAID OF X-RAYS!

Known for his work with the electric light bulb, Edison stopped working on the light bulb and talking about x-rays after several of his colleagues developed symptoms from the massive doses of radiation they were experimenting with. It took skin falling off of hands, hair falling off heads, and itchy rashes with burns to convince many to stop.

5. ALL NORMAL WOMEN DESIRE TO BE BEAUTIFUL.

So read a pamphlet for the Tricho system, an award-winning innovation made by Dr. Albert Geyser to remove unwanted facial hair using radiation in the early 1900’s. Installed in beauty shops across the country for $400 bucks each, the Tricho directed x-rays at women’s cheeks, lips and chin and targeted young women. It would be taken off the market around WWII after case studies emerged noting ulcers, carcinomas, and death.

6. OSCAR MEYER WEINER MOBILE AND SHOE FITTING X-RAY MACHINES.

Both invented by a noted industrial designer working for Adrian X-Ray Company in Milwaukee, shoe fitting machines were installed in over 10,000 stores within the US in the 1940’s and 50’s and eventually banned in 1970. The child would basically stand on top of a fluoroscopy tube that produced images of his feet within a pair of shoes to see how well they fit. My dad vividly remembers doing this every time he got shoes as a child. Unnecessary exposure coupled with radiation leakage eventually deemed the machines unsafe.

We absolutely love everything radiology and we want to make sure you do, too. At Bay Imaging Consultants, we have over 80 board certified radiologists that are sub-specialized in various areas of radiology.