Postkarte Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and RGS, 1896

Probably the most pleasing postcard in the company’s history 

The beginning of X-ray technology at Siemens Healthineers!

Ingo Zenger
Published on March 3, 2021
<p>In mid-January 1896, a few days after Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s discovery, the first physicians began using X-rays in certain examinations. The age-old dream of the “glass patient” had suddenly come true. Almost from one day to the next, many diagnostic procedures were utterly transformed. But the “physicians of phototherapy” – as the radiologists soon came to be known – faced a series of technical obstacles: “For beginners, the correct handling of the tubes can prove quite a challenge,” wrote the pioneering radiologist Heinrich Albers-Schönberg. “Many tubes were damaged by unwanted sparkover – in other words, disruptive discharge.”<br><br>Occasionally, the tubes shattered “with a loud bang, spreading tiny fragments of glass in all directions.” Albers-Schönberg therefore suggested covering the patient’s face with a cloth “to protect their eyes in the event that the tube should smash.” This problem was compounded by the fact that the tubes in those days were originally designed for studying gases and either couldn’t produce X-rays at all or required great dexterity, a sufficient knowledge of physics, or sheer luck on the part of the user.&nbsp;</p>
Hochfrequenz-Laboratorium um 1910
RGS-Fabrikgebäude in Erlangen, 1896

Reiniger, Gebbert & Schall factory in Erlangen in the year 1896 

<p>Fischer had instructions to visit Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and discuss his findings. However, a file in the Siemens Healthineers MedArchiv reveals that “Röntgen did not receive Mr. Fischer, as he was refusing visits altogether.” Instead, he referred Robert Fischer to one of his assistants, who “demonstrated the very modest apparatus to Mr. Fischer in operation.” Following Fischer’s report, Max Gebbert enlisted the help of privy councilor Eilhard Wiedemann, a physicist at the University of Erlangen who already had some experience with similar tubes to those used by Röntgen in his discovery. Wiedemann recommended several experimental setups and proposed to Gebbert that RGS take on his young assistant, the electrical engineer Josef Rosenthal.</p>

Originalskizze der ersten Röntgenröhre von RGS aus dem Jahre 1896

Original sketch from 1896 of the first X-ray tube from RGS. Röntgen found this tube “really very good.” 

Schädelaufnahme Rosenthal 1896

Josef Rosenthal sent this image of a 16-year-old girl’s head to Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in October 1896. 

“Your tubes are really very good” 

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen mit RGS-Röhre

Röntgen poses for a statue – in his hand is one of the smaller versions of the first medical X-ray tubes in the history of Siemens Healthineers.
Source: German Röntgen Museum 

Ingo Zenger
Ingo Zenger
By Ingo Zenger

Technology journalist and author at the Siemens Healthineers Historical Institute