The World Learns of the Discovery

The year 1896 began with x-rays known only to Dr. Roentgen. On December 28, 1895 he had submitted his manuscript, On a New Kind of Ray, A Preliminary Communication, to the Wurzburg Physical Medical Society. Although we had the opportunity to read this manuscript in the last edition of the X-ray Century, it had not been published or distributed as the new year began.

The news of the discovery originated from copies of his manuscript which Dr. Roentgen sent to a small group of fellow scientists and friends. Let us now follow some of the major steps in the process as the results of the discovery spread from Wurzburg to the world.

January 1, 1896 - Roentgen Sends Reprints

On this date Dr. Roentgen sent copies of his manuscript and some of his x-ray photographs to several renowned physicists and friends. These included:

Professor Exner showed the x-ray images to a small group of scientists and physicians including Dr. Ernst Lecher, whose father, Z.K. Lecher, was the editor of the Vienna Presse.

January 5, 1896 - Die Presse Publishes the News

A front-page article of Die Presse carried an extensive article describing the discovery and suggested that the new kind of radiation would be useful for medical diagnoses.

The news was also published in other European papers.

January 6, 1896 - News Cabled from the London Standard

The following news release was cabled to other countries throughout the world from London:

The noise of war's alarm should not distract attention from the marvelous triumph of science which is reported from Vienna. It is announced that Professor Routgen (sic) of the Wurzburg University has discovered a light which for the purpose of photography will penetrate wood, flesh, cloth, and most other organic substances. The Professor has succeeded in photographing metal weights which were in a closed wooden case, also a man's hand which showed only the bones, the flesh being invisible.

This article was published in several American newspapers including the New York Sun and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

January 7, 1896 - The London Standard Publishes the Story

The London Standard published the following story, which appears to be the first account to be published in English:

A very important scientific discovery has recently been made by Professor Roentgen, of Wurtzburg (sic) University, the details of which have already reached Vienna, and are now being carefully examined by several scientific authorities here. Professor Roentgen uses the light emitted from one of Crookes' vacuum tubes, through which an electric current is passed, to act upon an ordinary photographic plate. The invisible light rays, of whose existence there is already ample evidence, then show this peculiarity, that to them wood and various other organic substances are transparent, whilst metals and bones, human and animal alike, are opaque to those rays. That is to say, they will, for instance, absorb the rays which have passed through a wooden case in which bones or metals are enclosed. Thus it is possible to photograph in the manner described any bone or metals which may be contained in wood or woolen coverings. Moreover, as human flesh being organic matter acts in the same way as such coverings towards the invisible rays from the Crookes' vacuum tube, it has become possible to photograph the bones, say, of the human hand, without the flesh surrounding the bones appearing on the plate. There are photographs of this description already in Vienna. They show the bones of a hand together with the rings that were worn on the fingers - metals, as I remarked above, being opaque to these rays - but they show nothing else. They are ghastly enough in appearance, but from a scientific point of view, they open up a wild field for speculation. Among the practical uses of the new discovery, it is stated that it will henceforth be possible for surgeons to determine by help of this new branch of photography the exact position of any bullet that may be imbedded in the human body, or, again, to render visible any fractures there may be in the bones prior to performing any operation on the respective part of the body. And there are various other uses to which the new method may be put as for example, in connection with caries and other bone diseases. The Presse assures their readers that there is no joke or humbug in the matter. It is a serious discovery by a serious German Professor.

January 23, 1896 - Dr. Roentgen's First Public Lecture and Demonstration

On the evening of January 23, Dr. Roentgen presented a lecture and presentation to a crowded audience of the Wurzburg Physical Medical Society. After a discussion of his experiments, Dr. Roentgen invited Dr. Albert von Kolliker, a famous anatomist, who was chairing the session, to have his hand photographed with the new rays. When the image was shown the audience responded with tremendous applause.

Dr. von Kolliker led the audience in three cheers for Dr. Roentgen and proposed that the new rays be designated as "Roentgen's Rays". The proposal was unanimously approved and applauded by the audience.

The x-ray picture of von Kolliker's hand can be viewed from Wurzburg on the World Wide Web.

January 24, 1896 - English Translation of Roentgen's Manuscript Published.

In London the Electrician, a major electrical engineering journal, published an English translation of Roentgen's manuscript, "A New Kind of Ray, A Preliminary Communication".


By the end of January many scientists, physicians, and the general public had received the news of the great discovery.

In the next edition of The X-ray Century, which will be published on March 1, 1996, we will observe some of the varied reactions to the news of "a new kind of ray".

In the Nov. 1, 1895 edition of The X-ray Century we examined the history of gas discharge tubes.

In the Nov. 8, 1895 edition of The X-ray Century we were there when Prof. Roentgen discovered a new kind of ray.

In the Dec. 1, 1895 edition of The X-ray Century we looked at the investigations which led Dr. Roentgen to write the first paper describing the new rays.

In the Jan. 1, 1896 edition of The X-ray Century we read Prof. Roentgen's first paper describing the new kind of ray.