Today, exacty 115 years ago, on november 8, 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen (1845-1923) made his famous discovery: he produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range today known as X-rays or Röntgen rays, an achievement that earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901. The picture above is the very first röntgen photo made of a human body: it’s Mrs. Röntgen’s hand, including her wedding ring!
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (accidentally) discovered an image cast from his cathode ray generator, projected far beyond the possible range of the cathode rays (now known as an electron beam). Further investigation showed that the rays were generated at the point of contact of the cathode ray beam on the interior of the vacuum tube, that they were not deflected by magnetic fields, and they penetrated many kinds of matter.
A week after his discovery, Rontgen took an X-ray photograph of his wife’s hand which clearly revealed her wedding ring and her bones. The photograph electrified the general public and aroused great scientific interest in the new form of radiation. Röntgen named the new form of radiation X-radiation (X standing for “Unknown”). Hence the term X-rays (also referred as Röntgen rays, though this term is unusual outside of Germany).
The announcement of Roentgen’s discovery, illustrated with an X-ray photograph of his wife’s hand, was hailed as one of mankind’s greatest scientific accomplishments (comparable with the discoversie made by Albert Einstein & Charles Darwin), an invention that would revolutionize every aspect of human existence.
In Otto Glasser, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and the early history of the Roentgen rays. London, 1933. National Library of Medicine.