The British Society for the History of Radiology

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The aim of the Society is to stimulate interest in the History of Radiology and artefacts, for the benefit of the members and the public. We are supported by numerous professional bodies and are a registered charity:  Charity Number 1012505. For more details click on the BSHR tab.  Email

  ISHRAD, International Day of Radiology and the 120th anniversary of Rontgen’s discovery in Wurzburg.

 Report by Dr Arpan K Banerjee

  Chair British Society for the History of Radiology

November 8 1895 was the day when Rontgen  a relatively unknown Physics Professor at Wurzburg ,Germany conducted his epoch making experiment in his laboratory late on a Friday evening . The rest of the story has now become etched in medical history. Today it is difficult to imagine modern  hospitals without radiology departments. None of this would have been possible without his discovery of X-rays ,  published in his elegant paper ‘Eine Neue art  von Strahlen’ and presented  to the Physical and Medical Society of Wurzburg on 23 January 1896. News of the discovery spread worldwide and Rontgen went on to become the first recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.

On Nov 8  2015 a celebratory event to mark the 120th anniversary of the  discovery was  held  in the lecture hall of the Institute of Anatomy Wurzburg. It is here that the distinguished Professor of Anatomy , Albert Von Kolliker worked and discovered mitochondria and  subsequently became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and Copley Medallist. It was his hand that was X-rayed by Rontgen in the famous demonstration in the  lecture theatre all those years ago. Readers are probably more familiar with the famous 1966 painting by  the artist Robert Thom (1915-1979) depicting  this epoch making event.  

The weekend of celebratory events in Wurzburg included a scientific meeting of the International Society of the History of Radiology celebrating Rontgen’s discovery  held in the Rontgen  memorial building on the  Rontgenring road. This building luckily escaped the Allied bombing of Wurzburg which destroyed  90% of the city in 1945.  This building consists of  Rontgen’s original laboratories and an exhibition space and is now part of the new  University of  applied sciences, Wurzburg and displays  material relating to Rontgen’s life and provides an insight into the turn of the twentieth century physics. The tour of the famous laboratories was one of the highlights of the weekend. It was in this very room that X-rays were discovered by Rontgen and some of the apparatus was on display as well as Rontgen’s bookcase and desk and the famous sculpture of his hands.

A range of lectures were presented on a variety of topics including the development of radiology in Wurzburg, Rontgen’s birthplace in Remscheid and  an interesting presentation by S Popp on the  Rontgen memorial site itself. The memorial site consists of the laboratories Rontgen used at the University of Wurzburg and is now under the care of the newer University of Applied Sciences Wurzburg Scheinfurt. The road on which this building stands was renamed the Rontgenring  in 1909 in Rontgen’s honour. In the afternoon  a variety of talks were presented on topics ranging from Hounsfield, the Braggs,  early uroradiology to shoe fluoroscopy. The meeting was organised by the International Society for the History of Radiology, Roentgen Memorial site and the German Roentgen Society.

Wurzburg is also home to the famous Juliushospital founded in 1576 and an accompanying winery the profits which have enabled the hospital to flourish throughout the years. In the early nineteenth century this hospital had one of the world’s most advanced operating theatres.

Wurzburg University is one of Germany’s oldest universities and boasts 14 Nobel Laureates including Rontgen and Fischer, Nernst and Max von Laue the discoverer of x-ray diffraction in 1912. Landsteiner who in 1900 did his pioneering work on blood groups also worked here. In addition  Rudolf Virchow the great pathologist was also associated with Wurzburg for part of his career.

The city honoured its famous son with a front page article in the local paper and celebrations were held on the evening of Nov 8 to which delegates and local dignitaries were invited.

The weekend was a truly humbling, informative and inspiring experience for the members of the British Society for the History of Radiology who were lucky enough to attend.

First published Dec 2015 Rad Magazine UK

Report of BSHR annual  lecture ‘Marie Curie and the origins of early diagnostic radiology and radiotherapy’  

Report by Dr Arpan K Banerjee  Chair British Society for the History of Radiology

The venue of this year’s British Society for the History of Radiology  annual guest lecture on the 22 Feb 2016 was again the magnificient Governor’s Hall at St Thomas’s Hospital, London.  Over 100 attendees were priviledged to hear a masterly exposition by the distinguished science historian and author from Oxford University Dr Allan Chapman  on the contributions of Marie Curie and Roentgen to modern diagnostic and therapeutic radiology  set in the context of the advances in the nineteenth century science which made all of this possible.

In the eighteenth century radiation and invisible forces were everywhere. A general fascination with  invisible forces was present in society with light waves , magnetism and electricity the subjects of enquiry and study by all and sundry including quacks who were respected physicians often  interested in these  unusual fields of scientific enquiry ( only recently in the twentieth century did the quack become a pejorative term for alternative practitioners) . Mesmer , the Viennese physician tried treating patients with magnetism which was parodied in his time by Mozart. The contributions of James Clark Maxwell to electromagnetism and work  by the polymath Thomas Young  who coined the term energy  and other pioneering  scientists of the nineteenth century paved the way for Roentgen’s great discovery in 1895.

This set off  further great advances in physics including  Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity from his studies on uranium and in 1899  J J Thompson’s discovery of the electron. Marie Curie met Becquerel in Paris  and worked on pitchblende. In 1898 she isolated Polonium (named after her native country Poland) and radium.  She was the recipient of 2 Nobel Prizes one in Physics and the other in Chemistry. Her husband Pierre was also a distinguished experimenter  receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics with Marie Curie in 1903 for their work on radioactivity. He was unfortunately killed in an accident  in 1906. Marie Curie became the first female Professor in the University of Paris and  in 1911 won her Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In the first world war she  procured  xray equipment  and trucks  for her mobile radiography units for field hospitals.  In the early days radium found itself being used for a wide range of purposes not necessarily medicinal. It was  the French radiologist from the Curie Institute who in 1922 demonstrated that throat cancer could be treated with  Xray treatment and went on to describe fractionated radiotherapy   which became routine treatment in the 1930’s .

Dr Chapman’s address was a masterly exposition  with some interesting illustrations and had the audience captivated by his erudition. All who attended remarked what an interesting and informative evening the lecture had been.

First published in  April 2016 Rad Magazine.


The Hirtz Compass - X-ray guided surgery in WW1 by Francis Duck in Scope vol 25 Issue 1 2016. Click here

Edith and Florence Stoney: X-ray pioneers by Francis Duck. In West of England Medical Journal Vol 115 Issue 1 2016. Click here

Below: The Hirtz Compass


The 25th Congress of the BSHM August 2013

The History Session at UKRC June 2014

Nervous Women…ISHRAD 2012

The History Session at UKRC June 2015


Francis Duck’s  ISHRAD lecture in Vienna 8 March 2014 in pdf form. It’s nearly 40 MB


The British Institute of Radiology has produced a short film about the history of radiology during World War 1.  BIR past-president, Professor Andrew Jones, interviews  Adrian Thomas about the important role of radiology during the war and some of the major figures during that period. The film features some interesting artefacts.

Find it here.


Dr Paul Frame  has built up a museum at Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Tennessee that covers many aspects of atomic and nuclear history: measuring instruments, particularly those for health physics, are well represented but there is a wide-ranging collection of documents. It contains some artefacts of radiology and much of it is online.


Adrian Thomas’s short history of radiology is a good start to finding out  about its fascinating past. Other accounts can be found through the History tab above.


The 29th International Congress of Radiology will be held in Argentina 21-24 September 2016. There will be a historical session of the ICR.

A new book...  Radium and the Secret of Life by Luis Campos, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

The  BSHM Poynter lecture will take place on 12th October at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre Euston Road, London and promises to be a wonderful lecture by Dr Sam Alberti on “Finding Patients in the Medical Museum”

Dr Arpan  Banerjee (left) with Dr Allan Chapman