Fluoroscopy for Lung Disease, Boston, 1903

The X-Ray Era 1901-1915

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When Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, heard of Roentgen’s discovery of the x-ray, he directed his research staff to create x-ray tubes and better screens on which to view the images. Edison owned America’s first industrial research laboratory and could easily supply the know-how, money, and the most modern technology to devise new uses and improvements to almost any device. Edison’s scientists used a thinner glass bulb and aluminum disks as electrodes to create a more efficient x-ray tube. They also tested over 8,000 chemicals in their search to improve the resolution on the fluorescent x-ray screen. They found calcium tungstate provided the best results. Edison named his devise the ‘fluoroscope.’ It was an easy-to-use, hand-held machine as seen here.

By the end of 1896, radiology’s prime tools had been improved and their use spread worldwide. During its development, however, Edison had noticed that the skin around his eyes was reddening and he had developed rashes. By 1902, Edison had given up all x-ray work, but it was too late for his assistant Clarence Daly, the one who had tested the tubes. He had burns on his face and hands, which were soon followed by the extreme loss of head and facial hair. The burns turned into ulcers, then painful malignancies that started at his fingers and slowly ate their way up his arms. Trying to stop its advance, he gradually lost both his arms from multiple amputations. Finally succumbing in 1904, “Daly had died by inches.” All over the world pioneer radiologists were losing their lives and limbs to the new machine.

Edison’s fluoroscope was used to tract internal disease, and derangements of internal organs could be seen in real time. In this image, a radiologist is drawing the disease areas directly onto the patient’s chest. This was a common method of analyzing a patient’s lung disease in this era. Modifications of Edison’s fluoroscope were used in shoe stores until the 1950s. ■

Excerpted from Oncology: Tumors & Treatment: A Photographic History, The X-Ray Era 1901-1915 by Stanley B. Burns, MD, FACS. Photograph courtesy of Stanley B. Burns, MD, and The Burns Archive.





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