The X-Ray… by Accident

Society should appreciate accidents relatively due to hidden and unrecognized benefits that impacted our lives in certain circumstances. Some may call it destiny or lucky incidents that shaped generations and may continue to do so till further notice. Several innovations that entered our daily lives came by mistake or unintentionally as scientists were seeking investigating alternative quests that led to an entirely different outcome (Krueger, 2010). Amazingly, the list encompassed every aspect of human life, whether in food, medicine, electronics, appliances, from potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, passing by Viagra, Penicillin, to X-ray machines dynamites (Greenwald, 2018). The literature investigated the accidental experiment that led to inventing electromagnetic radiation and introducing the X-ray machine.

The History

            German physics Professor and a Nobel Prize winner Wilhelm Röntgen experimented with Lenard and Crookes tubes when he accidentally stumbled with X-rays. On November 8, 1895, the discovery occurred and referred to the radiation as “X” in his initial paper written submitted to the Würzburg‘s Physical-Medical Society journal (Stanton, 1896). Unfortunately, the Röntgen laboratory was burned after his death, and the discovery has been collected by biographers later, leading to controversial and conflict accounts on the discovery (Peters, 1995). Earlier initial experiments have produced X-rays were conducted by William Morgan and extended by Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday.

The Accident and The Forces

            Initially, Röntgen was investigating the cathode ray tubes’ properties from the Crookes tubes when he noticed that shining light passed through the tubes and illuminated a fluorescent paper covered by cardboard. The accidental discovery made Röntgen surprised and confused, driving him to call the new ray X due to the unknown origin. He invited his wife to the lab for further investigation and emerged with a photograph that revealed her hand’s bones with the ring on the finger. According to Assmus (1995), Röntgen spent the next six weeks in the laboratory working solely investigating the phenomena.

The driving force of the accidental discovery could be realized by several factors that led to the discovery. Initially, the background of Röntgen, being a professor investigating and conducting research in the laboratory. The innovation might be an accident or folklore; however, the process needed to be revised and refined (Tidd & Bessant, 2020). The environment was crucial to investigate the phenomena through research and trial to understand the ray’s behavior. As mentioned earlier, the professor kept the investigation for a period of time alone for further studies and analysis. Additionally, the nineteenth-century era witnessed interest in other domains such as the medical society, driving Röntgen to realize the importance of his discovery in conducting medical operations (Feldman, 1989). 

Furthermore, the interest in technology and the increase in literature publications globally and different languages, particularly in English, German, French, and Italian, framed the X-rays’ discovery and early deployment (Natale, 2011). According to Knight (1986), X-rays’ history has been even confined to the medicine and science fields and foreseen attraction and significant interest in the nineteenth century. The discovery stimulated broad interest globally, leading alone to publish more than 1044 articles and 49 essays in 1896 alone (Natale, 2011).


While the discovery was accidental, it was not achievable if Röntgen was not investigating an alternative phenomenon that led to X-ray. The proceeding with trials and further examination in the laboratory demonstrated a methodological discipline that contributed to the discovery. Several discoveries could not be possible without the impact of the culture and the era surrounding the innovation, whether by accident or not. In my personal opinion, X-Ray benefits from the increasing interests in the academic and practitioner societies and then leading to swift adoption and accelerated improvements.


Assmus, A. (1995). Early history of X rays. Beam Line25(2), 10-24.

Feldman, A. (1989). A sketch of the technical history of radiology from 1896 to 1920. Radiographics9(6), 1113-1128.

Greenwald, M. (2018). 30 Life-Changing Inventions That Were Totally Accidental, BestLife. Retrieved from

Knight, N. (1986). The new light: x-rays and medical futurism. Imagining tomorrow: History, technology, and the American future, 10-34.

Kruger, A. (2010). 15 Life-Changing Inventions That Were Created By Mistake, Business Insider. Retrieved from

Natale, S. (2011). The invisible made visible: X-rays as Attraction and Visual Medium at the End of the Nineteenth Century. Media History17(4), 345-358. Otto, G. (1958). Dr. W. C. Ro ̈ntgen. Springfield: Thomas. doi:/10.1080/13688804.2011.602856

Peters, P. (1995). WC Roentgen and the discovery of x-rays. Textbook of Radiology. Medyclopedia.

Stanton, A. (1896). Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen on a new kind of rays: translation of a paper read before the Würzburg Physical and Medical Society, 1895. Nature53(1369), 274-276.

Tidd, J., & Bessant, J. R. (2020). Managing innovation: integrating technological, market and organizational change. Hoboken: Wiley.

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