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September 20, 1995

Röntgen RetrospectiveOne Hundred Years of a Revolutionary Technology

Author Affiliations

From the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Mo.

JAMA. 1995;274(11):912-916. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530110074039

ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago, on November 8, 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen made a startling discovery in his laboratory in Würzburg, Germany. The physics professor was experimenting with the action of electric energy in partially evacuated glass tubes—a popular scientific activity in the last quarter of the 19th century. Meticulously laboring in a darkened laboratory with the electrically charged tube, he noticed a glow from the far corner of the room. This observation led to a series of experiments, and while passing his hand between a fluorescing screen and the tube, he was astonished to see what appeared to be the shadows of his bones.

It is impossible to know exactly what Röntgen thought at that moment. Most of the great technological inventions have been foreseen by "dreamers" who anticipated the discovery by prediction or fantasy. For example, people have always thought about flying—the airplane made these dreams reality. Physicians had

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