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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

Icon:Reynolds' X-ray set, 1896

related ingenious images © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

This X-ray set is one of the oldest anywhere in the world - a remarkable survival from the months immediately after Wilhelm Röntgen announced his discovery of a 'new type of ray'. Röntgen's X-rays were invisible to the eye, but could pass through solid objects to different degrees. The shadows of bones, for example, could be made visible using photographic plates.

Russell Reynolds was enthused by the first British report of the discovery of X-rays in January 1896, and set out to build his own X-ray apparatus. Although still at school, and working with his father John, a general practitioner and a friend of William Crookes (also a pioneer investigator of cathode-ray phenomena), he completed the apparatus within a year.

The discovery of X-rays came at a time when medicine was increasingly linking specific diseases with changes in the body's internal organs. With the stethoscope doctors studied the chest using sound, but X-rays provided the means to produce a picture. It is not surprising that some doctors were quick to take up the invention, but it was not until the 1920s that these machines were generally accepted within medicine.

By donating this set to the Science Museum in 1938, Reynolds made a claim to be considered a pioneer of radiology, the profession to which he had devoted his life.

Inv. 1938-645
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