Featured History: Fluoroscopy

Neuilly, France, 1917. Using a fluoroscope, a field doctor examines a wounded soldier for deep-seated bullets. The X-ray tube is visible below the table.

Neuilly, France, 1917. Using a fluoroscope, a field doctor examines a wounded soldier for deep-seated bullets. The X-ray tube is visible below the table.

When Wilhelm Röntgen published “On a New Kind of Rays” in 1895, he sparked an interest in X-rays throughout the scientific world. Halfway around in the globe in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Thomas Edison jumped at the chance to contribute. In the four months after Röntgen’s publication, Edison exposed over 8,000 substances to X-rays and discovered that calcium tungstate fluoresced most brightly. He then used this substance to create the Edison Vitascope, a device for recreational fluoroscopy (DiSantis).

fluoroscopy iii

Shoe salesmen’s fitting card. Date unknown.

Although mysterious injuries and deaths were common in the new field of X-rays, their precise cause was disputed for some time, and so extramedical use of fluoroscopy continued with little regulation over the next half-century. Beginning in the 1930s, a device often seen in shoe stores was the Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope, which allowed customers and clerks to inspect shoes’ impact on the bones of the foot. A survey of these machines in the late 1940s showed that customers’ feet received between 7 and 14 R in a 20-second exposure. Pressure from a number of medical organizations and insurance companies led to the discontinuation of the Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscopes in the U.S. by 1960, although the devices survived in British and Canadian stores until 1970 (“Shoe-Fitting”).

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Sources cited:

“Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope.” Oak Ridge Associated Universities. 20 Apr. 2010. Web. 15 Sept. 2014 <http://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/shoefittingfluor/shoe.htm&gt;

DiSantis, D. “Early American Radiology: The Pioneer Years.” American Journal of Radiology 147 (Oct. 1986). Web. 15 Sept. 2014 <http://www.ajronline.org/doi/pdf/10.2214/ajr.147.4.850&gt;

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Photo credits: 1917 photo attributed to Dr. J.P. Hoguet, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. Shoe-fitting card retrieved from Oak Ridge Associated Universities

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