History of Radiology: Timeline, Pioneers, Inventions

December 13, 2021

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The Founding Father of Radiology: Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (Roentgen)

The history of radiology has started with the discovery of X-Ray by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895. During his career, physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen centered his work on studying subjects such as: piezoelectricity, absorption and specific heats of gases, and capillary action of fluids. These studies, while experimenting with a cathode-ray tube and glass at the University of Würzburg, unexpectedly led to the 1895 discovery of invisible rays capable of passing through most substances, leaving shadows which could be recorded on photographic plates. Due to the unknown nature of these rays at the time, Röntgen labelled them as “X-rays”.

He shared his extraordinary findings within his report titled, “One a New Kind of Rays”, which was published on December 28, 1895. News of his discovery quickly spread, particularly within the medical milieu. By February 1896, clinical applications began to be implemented. Rontgen’s exceptional work in discovering the foundation of what is to become modern radiology and his other scientific contributions resulted in him being awarded the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901.

Thanks to Röntgen’s x-ray introduction in 1895, the history of radiology was set, bringing about its modern-day inception.


History of Radiology Technology

The earliest radiography involved recording images onto glass photographic plates. The next leap in the progression of radiographic imaging — screen-film radiography — came in 1918 with the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, George Eastman’s, introduction of film. Current radiography utilizes digital imaging and archiving technology such as PACS/MIMPS to record and store radiographic images electronically.

Technological advances over the years have contributed to the continued evolution of medical imaging. Specifically, the dynamic landscape of medicine from World War Two onwards into the 1950’s propagated modern-day ultrasound technology. Subsequently, the 1970’s witnessed the arrival of other imaging methods used prolifically today such as computed axial tomography scan (CAT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Timeline of Advances in Radiology 

The practice of radiology has come a long way! Here is a snapshot listing of key developments in medical imaging:


X-rays are discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen in 1895, Germany. The first image captured was of his wife’s hand, showing its skeletal outline with a ring on one of her fingers.


X-ray applications are being used as early as January. Concurrently, French physicist, Antoine-Henri Becquerel, discovers radioactivity.


Radiological equipment is used in field hospitals during World War I.


George Eastman introduces film, replacing radiographs made onto glass photographic plates.


Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is discovered independently by American physicists, Edward Purcell and Felix Bloch.


Ian Donald, a Scottish physician, endeavors ultrasound in gynecology. Together with engineer Tom Brown, he develops a portable ultrasound machine.


The first single-plane positron emission tomography (PET) scan is built by American James Robertson.


English electrical engineer, Godfrey Hounsfield, develops first clinical prototype of CT scanner.


The first NMR image is published by American chemist, Paul Lauterbur.


"Real-time" ultrasound machines are introduced.


American physician, Raymond Damadian, completes the first MRI.

Early 1980’s

MRI scanners are installed in hospitals.


Ultrasound becomes a routine procedure in pregnancy as a means of monitoring the development and health of the fetus.


The first functional MRI (fMRI) of the brain is conducted by Belliveau et al.


The PET-CT scanner, attributed to David Townsend and Ronald Nutt, is named by TIME Magazine as the medical invention of the year.


The International Day of Radiology (IDoR) is introduced. It is recognized on November 8 annually.


The University of Canterbury was granted $12 million to build the world's first human color X-ray scanner.


How Has Radiology Changed Over Time?

From image production with glass photographic plates to high resolution digital modalities that harness cutting edge technologies, medical imaging has transformed medicine and continues to revolutionize patient care delivery. Thanks to these technological advances, radiology-tailored software solutions like PACS, RIS/PACS integrations, teleradiology, and now Imaging EMRs (which are newer, more comprehensive, and work well with radiology departments), are the gold standard of 21st century medicine and healthcare administration.

After learning about the history of radiology, are you planning to take your patient care to the next level? RamSoft offers an innovative, scalable, secure, and cloud-native solution custom-designed to help medical imaging/radiology practices like you meet the needs of the future of healthcare: OmegaAI. Talk to our team of experts today to learn more!