The first X-ray machines needed patients to sit still for well over an hour, they doused people with 1500 times the amount of radiation as today’s machines, and the pictures were fuzzy at best. But they were still absolutely amazing.
One of the very first medical X-ray machines was built in early 1896, mere weeks after William Rontgen first announced the discovery of this new form of radiation. It was developed by high school director H J Hoffmans and hospital director Lambertus Theodorus van Kleef in Maastricht in the Netherlands. Spurred on by Rontgen’s paper, the pair built the device out of spare parts from the high school, and soon they were imaging various bits of human anatomy.
Though a remarkable achievement, their machine was soon obsolete and it was left abandoned in a Maastricht warehouse, where it remained until a TV documentary crew discovered it last year. Maastrict University Medical Center’s Gerrit Kemerink decided to put this ancient machine to the test and see how it stacked up with the machines of today. Because these first generation machines had become outmoded so quickly, there haven’t been any previous assessments of how these most primitive machines compare.
Dr. Kemerink explains: “To my knowledge, nobody had ever done systematic measurements on this equipment, since by the time one had the tools, these systems had been replaced by more sophisticated ones.
One of the driving forces in improving X-ray machine technology was to reduce the high radiation doses required to obtain an image. Early engineers realized that prolonged exposure to the machines could be harmful less than a year after the machines were first built, which makes this primitive machine one of the very few surviving examples that predate the knowledge of these dangers.