This Day in History (8-Nov-1895) – Wilhelm Rontgen Accidentally Discovers the X-ray

Wilhelm Roentgen was working on the effects of cathode rays during 1895, when he actually discovered X-rays. His experiments involved the passing of electric current through gases at extremely low pressure. On November 8, 1895 while he was experimenting, he observed that certain rays were emitted during the passing of the current through discharge tube. His experiment that involved working in a totally dark room with a well covered discharge tube resulted in the emission of rays which illuminated a barium platinocyanide covered screen. The screen became fluorescent even though it was placed in the path of the rays, two meters away from discharge tube.

He continued his experiments using photographic plate to capture the image of various objects of random thickness placed in the path of the rays. He generated the very first “roentgenogram” by developing the image of his wife Anna’s hand and analyzed the variable transparency as showed by her bones, flesh and her wedding ring. Terrified, Anna famously cried out, “I have seen my death!”

Based on his subsequent research and experiments, he declared that X-ray beams are produced by the impact of cathode rays on material objects. He named the new ray X-ray, because in mathematics “X” is used to indicated the unknown quantity. His discovery revolutionized the entire medical profession and set foundation for diagnostic radiology. In 1901, Roentgen received the first ever Nobel Prize in Physics.

It would be nearly a decade before scientists discovered X-rays had harmful effects. Clarence Dally, one of Thomas Edison’s assistants, died of skin cancer in 1904 after working with the radiation. Without a full grip on the consequences, standards for protection did not come into force until the 1950s — by that time some stores in America had been helping people to see how well shoes fit by looking through an X-ray machine for decades!


This Day in History (24-May-1830) – “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” is published

The nursery rhyme, ‘Mary had a little lamb’ was first published by the Boston publishing firm Marsh, Capen & Lyon, as an original poem by Sarah Josepha Hale on May 24, 1830, and was inspired by an actual incident.

As a young girl, Mary Sawyer (later Mrs. Mary Tyler) kept a pet lamb, which she took to school one day at the suggestion of her brother. A commotion naturally ensued. Visiting school that morning was a young man by the name of John Roulstone, a nephew of the Reverend Lemuel Capen, who was then settled in Sterling. The young man was very much pleased with the incident of the lamb; and the next day he rode across the fields on horseback to the little old schoolhouse and handed Mary a slip of paper which had written upon it the three original stanzas of the poem.

The Redstone School built in 1798, believed to be the school house mentioned in the rhyme, is now located in Sudbury, Massachusetts. In Sterling, Massachusetts, a statue representing Mary’s Little Lamb stands in the town center. The rhyme is also famous for being the very first thing recorded by Thomas Edison on his newly invented phonograph in 1877.  It was the first instance of recorded verse. In 1927 Edison re-enacted the recording which still survives.

It was reported in a 1902 edition of the New York Times Book Review that when Dr Lowell Mason introduced singing into Boston schools in 1827 he asked noted writers to contribute songs and rhymes, and one of the contributors was Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879), who supplied ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’.