The story of a very special tube

How our colleagues in Rudolstadt brought a 125-year-old X-ray tube back to life

Ingo Zenger
Published on July 1, 2021

When news of the discovery of X-rays emerged in January 1896, the world was changed forever – and our company embarked on a brave new era in its history. Just three days after the discovery was announced, we began building our first X-ray tube for medical applications. 

 RGS-Mitarbeiter mit unserer ersten medizinischen Röntgenröhre, 1896
Originalskizze der ersten Röntgenröhre von RGS aus dem Jahre 1896

Originalskizze der ersten Röntgenröhre von RGS aus dem Jahre 1896 

Der Röhrensammler Udo Radtke bringt sein Original unserer Röntgenröhre nach Rudolstadt

Tube-collector Udo Radtke brought his original X-ray tube to Rudolstadt 

We invited Udo Radtke to Rudolstadt, where we gave him a VIP tour of our production facility, had our experts examine his original X-ray tube, and scanned every last detail of it using our SILAC system. Based on the resulting technical drawing, our master glassblower Jörg Linke along with tubemakers Stefan Werner and Andre Knäblein got to work. 

Jörg Linke beim Röhrenbau - in Handarbeit, wie vor 125 Jahren

Jörg Linke making the tube by hand – just as they did 125 years ago

To familiarize himself with the historical working methods, Jörg Linke visited the nearby town of Gehlberg. Back in 1896, this is where our X-ray tubes were built based on our blueprints by a company called Gundelach, as we didn’t have glassworks of our own in those days. He compared notes with other glassblowers, asked Udo Radtke for advice, and familiarized himself with the materials of the time. For example, glass is now much harder than it was in the past – and Linke explains that he needed significantly “more firepower” to shape the tube without corners and edges.

Der detailgetreue Nachbau der ersten Röntgenröhre unserer Firmengeschichte

Ingo Zenger
Ingo Zenger
By Ingo Zenger

Technology journalist and author at the Siemens Healthineers Historical Institute