The x-ray machine has revolutionized the medical industry by allowing doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers clearly peer into the inner workings of the human body without intrusion. Early in its history, however, x-rays were an unknown phenomenon, as were all forms of potentially harmful radiation. Did the benefits outweigh the risks? To the first scientists discovering these fantastic new rays, yes. But we can see today the personal risks these men and women went through the help us understand radiation. From Pacific Healthcare Imaging, here are some historical facts about the x-ray and how it came to help us today.

Discovery and First Use

The x-ray was discovered in 1895 by a man named Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, a professor at Wuerzburg University in Germany. While working with a cathode ray tube in his laboratory, he noticed that when the cathode ray was active with high voltage, several fluorescent minerals nearby would begin to glow. He wrapped the cathode ray tube in heavy black paper, and the effect was the same – the rays were penetrating the paper. He would soon discover that x-rays can penetrate human flesh but not bone and metal objects. One of the earliest x-ray images was taken in 1895 of the hand of Roentgen’s wife, Bertha (through which you can see the dark shadow of the bones of her fingers and the ring on her ring finger).

Early Use in Medicine

By the turn of the century, the world was abuzz with news of this mysterious new ray, with some news sources sensationalizing it. The usefulness of x-rays was seen immediately by doctors and surgeons, who adopted the cathode-ray x-ray in surgery and location bullets in wounded soldiers. In 1901, when President William McKinley was shot, the wounded president called on Thomas Edison to bring an x-ray machine to find the bullet that had penetrated him. Unfortunately, McKinley died due to a bacterial infection caused by the shot before the x-ray machine could be used.

Recognizing the Dangers

For some, the discovery of radiation dangers came too late. Even while elements like radium and uranium were being touted as modern miracles of health, patients were receiving large doses of radiation when doctors found it difficult to align their equipment.  Hair loss was a common complaint, as were hand and chest burns. Clarence Madison Dally, a glassblower of Edison’s that tested his hands with x-ray tubes so frequently that he gave himself a rather violent case of cancer in both hands (which were both amputated along with his elbow and shoulder in an attempt to save his life). When Dally died, Edison abandoned this research, saying “Don’t talk to me about x-rays, I am afraid of them.”

Modern medicine has benefitted much from the sacrifices made by the men and women who studied radiation for a living, offering us safe and efficient methods of radiography. For the safest and highest-quality C-Arms and imaging equipment on the market, you can rely on Pacific Healthcare ImagingContact us today for more information.