The history of radiology begins only about 120 years ago, but since then radiology has played a vital role within the healthcare system in helping diagnose and treat patients. Rarely does a patient go through the healthcare system without needing at least one imaging test of some kind, whether it be an x-ray or a CT scan.
At Bay Imaging Consultants, we often get strange repetitive remarks from patients about their imaging test, for example, whether they would “glow” from their x-rays, set off metal detectors, or burn their skin from too many imaging tests.
Many of these perceptions about radiology stem from the early history of radiology, during the early day shenanigans and real-life tragedies that scientists faced while discovering this “unknown” ray called “x”. Thankfully, the history of radiology has changed much since then. Let’s take a look at the history of radiology and some of the interesting facts that detail its discovery and evolution into our modern world.
1. “I HAVE SEEN MY DEATH!”
This famous quote was said by the wife of William Roentgen, a German physicist 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 x-ray of her hand…wedding ring included. Upon seeing the image, she exclaimed that she had seen her own death. The long exposure time and high radiation dose in early x-ray machines often caused radiation burns and loss of hair.
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 that 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 widely accepted that scientist Nikola Tesla produced the first x-ray in the U.S. shortly after Roentgen. Using his good friend the famous writer Mark Twain as his subject, he attempted to take Twain’s x-ray using a vacuum tube, which 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.
Known for his work with the electric light bulb, Edison stopped working on the light bulb and talking about x-rays shortly after William Roentgen showed off the first-ever x-ray of his wife’s hand. During the research though, several of Edison’s colleagues developed symptoms from the massive doses of radiation they were experimenting with and one even died. The sad incident, along with Edison almost losing his eyesight from the radiation, led him to proclaim, “I don’t want to know anything more about x-rays!”
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. Unnecessary exposure coupled with radiation leakage eventually deemed the machines unsafe.
We absolutely love everything learning about the history of radiology and we hope that you did, too. At Bay Imaging Consultants, we have over 80 board certified radiologists that are sub-specialized in various areas of radiology, for more information on imaging technology or to schedule an appointment at one of our locations, contact us today.