W. C. Roentgen and the Discovery of the Roentgen Rays


Thirty-five years ago, on November 8, 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen made the revolutionary discovery of a mysterious new kind of ray which he called the “x-ray.” Thirty-five years is too short a period of time in which to obtain the proper perspective by which to judge the significance of this revelation or to appreciate fully the genius of the man who made this remarkable discovery and beneficently gave it to the world. On the other hand, thirty-five years is so long ago that it is difficult to obtain authentic facts from original sources bearing directly upon the manner in which the existence of the roentgen rays was first revealed to their discoverer. Fortunately, however, there are some persons still living who had personal and intimate contact with Roentgen and can relate their experiences with authority, and who can also vouch for the veracity of the early reports of the discovery.

According to the statements made by these persons, this peculiar and inexplainable phenomenon was first manifested by the fluorescence of a small barium platinum cyanide screen under the influence of the penetrating rays emitted from an excited Crookes tube. A detailed description of Roentgen’s discovery was given by Sylvanus P. Thompson, a well-known English physicist, himself an enthusiastic x-ray research worker and president of the newly founded British Roentgen Society, at a meeting held on Friday, November 5, 1897, at St. Martin’s Town Hall in London. Roentgen had modestly declined an invitation to address this historic meeting. Thompson’s report of the discovery agrees with many. . .