Make your own X-rays at home (1896)

As you might imagine, the suggestion from the very early days of X-ray technology to try making your own at home was not the smartest advice. A modern medical study has shown that an X-ray machine from 1896 actually exposed the body to 1,500 times more radiation than does the tech of today. In fact, Gerrit J Kemerink PhD, one of the study’s authors, noted, “Many operators of the early x-ray systems experienced severe damage to hands over time, often necessitating amputations or other surgery.”

X-Rays at home

The following simple and inexpensive device for the production of X-rays is described in the Scientific American of June 11, from which we also copy the accompanying [above] illustration:

“The expense of special Crookes tubes, powerful coils and batteries has deterred many from entering this interesting field of experiment; but R. McNeil of this city has recently devised apparatus in which an ordinary incandescent lamp is substituted for the Crookes tube, and an induction-coil of common form is made to supply electricity of sufficiently high potential to produce the X-ray phenomena.

>> Also see: X-ray wonders (1896)

“The lamp, which is a 52-volt, 16-candlepower Sawyer-Man lamp, is made of German or lime glass. For convenience, it is mounted in an insulating standard. The top of the lamp is covered with aluminum foil, which is connected with one terminal of the secondary of the induction coil, and then the bottom is connected with the other terminal of the secondary, as shown. The X ray proceeds from the cathode.

By means of the fluoroscope the shadows of the bones of the hands and feet, also of the limbs, may be seen when they are placed between the instrument and the lamp.

“It has been found in this experiment that when a blue fog appears in the lamp, the vacuum is too low for the best results. By placing the lamp in the house circuit for fifteen or thirty minutes, the high vacuum is restored by the heat, and will remain good for about fifteen minutes.

“The coil is capable of giving a three-inch spark, and the X-ray produced by this simple and inexpensive apparatus is sufficient for making radiographs.”


Photo: Hand X-ray from the February 1896 issue of Photographische Rundschau (Germany)

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