Mar 27, 1845 - Feb 10, 1923

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen


Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (born March 27, 1845 in Lennep, today part of Remscheid, died February 10, 1923 in Munich) was a German physicist. On November 8, 1895 in the Physical Institute of the University of Würzburg he discovered the X-rays. As acknowledgement he received the first Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901. His discovery revolutionized among others medical diagnostics and led to further important findings of the 20th century. He always emphasized that he discovered the X-rays by chance.

Röntgen's birthplace in Lennep 1845., unknown, Original Source: unknown
On the 27th of March 1845 at 4 pm Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen sees the light of day in Lennep. As the single child of the wealthy cloth merchant Friedrich Conrad Röntgen and his wife Charlotte Constanze he is raised in the Dutch City of Apeldoorn, where his family moves three years after his birth.
Birth certificate of W.C. Röntgen., City of Lennep, 1845, Original Source: unknown
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen with his parents (approx. 1860)., unknown, Original Source: unknown
Röntgen has attended the Technical School in Utrecht for a year when an incident occurs. He is caught by his teacher while admiring a caricature that a fellow classmate has produced of the strict educator. Röntgen refuses to give away the name of the culprit but his loyalty has consequences: He has to leave school without a final degree.
Röntgen (on the right side of the picture) with fellow students from Zürich., unknown, Original Source: unknown
Röntgen is not allowed to study without A-levels. Nevertheless, he registers in Utrecht as a guest student. He learns from a Swiss engineer that in Zürich registration is possible after an entrance examination, even without A-levels. The Director of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich accepts Röntgen‘s application, even without the usual entrance examination, due to his sound background knowledge. He obtains his diploma as a mechanical engineer within three years and completes his final examinations with top marks.
Diploma of W.C. Röntgen., Röntgenkuratorium Würzburg e.V., 2017, Original Source: unknown

Röntgen's diploma as mechanical engineer of ETH Zurich from 6th August 1868 with the grade 5.8. In the canton of Zurich, grade 6 is the highest grade.

Doctorate of W.C. Röntgen., Röntgenkuratorium Würzburg e.V., 2017, Original Source: unknown

Certificate of Doctorate as PhD from Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, awarded by University of Zurich on 22.1.1869.

August Kundt, Professor of Physics in Zürich and Mentor Röntgen`s., unknown, Original Source: unknown
The acquaintance with August Kundt becomes a decisive turning point in Röntgen’s life. The young professor sparks his enthusiasm for physics, which up to this point had not been one of his interests. Röntgen prepares his dissertation with the title “Studies on gases”. Inspired by the diligence and ability of his protégé, Kundt takes him along as an assistant after having received his appointment at the Julius Maximilians University Würzburg in 1870.
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and his wife Bertha., unknown, Original Source: unknown
On the 19th of January 1872, Röntgen marries Bertha Ludwig in Apeldoorn. They have been a couple since his student days in Zürich. Bertha is the daughter of the university-educated innkeeper in Röntgen‘s favorite pub “The Green Glass”. During the same year Röntgen follows Kundt to the recently founded State University of Strasbourg. Unlike in Würzburg, the Professorial Council of the Department of Mathematics and Natural Science grants him the right to apply for habilitation in experimental physics after two years of activity as an assistant.
Josephine Bertha Röntgen (born: Ludwig)., unknown, Original Source: unknown

In 1887, the Röntgens took six-year-old Josephine Berta, the Zurich-born daughter of Anna Bertha Röntgen's brother Hans Ludwig, into her household. Later, they adopted the child, which later had the name Josephine Bertha Donges-Röntgen.

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in the auditorium., unknown, Original Source: unknown
Following his habilitation, the young professor rapidly attracts the attention of several universities. The first to enroll him is the Agricultural Academy of Hohenheim. But the financial resources for his institute are limited and Röntgen feels uncomfortable, having been spoiled in this respect during his time in Strasbourg. When his mentor August Kundt supports him for the position as second physicist in Strasbourg, Röntgen makes an early return in 1876. Over the next years they jointly publish a series of scientific papers that gain a high level of recognition within the scientific community.
The Röntgen family in the circle of their friends during their holidays together in Pontresina – picture taken by Röntgen with self-timer (approx. 1894)., unknown, Original Source: unknown
1879 - A NEW HOME
Röntgen responds to a call of the University of Gießen, where he finally finds professional satisfaction after the University restructures and extends the institute to suit his wishes. After moving to Gießen, the couple rapidly gains a lot of private friends. Many of the friendships that Röntgen and his wife make here will last for a lifetime. Together they go places and Röntgen can pursue his passion for hiking and hunting. The couple remains childless. Thus, they adopted the daughter of Bertha‘s widowed brother in Gießen. Röntgen‘s parents also move to Gießen and spend their last years with the young family.
W.C. Röntgen 1885, unknown, 1885, Original Source: unknown
Würzburg at Röngen`s time – the picture was taken by Röntgen himself., unknown, 1894, Original Source: unknown
After having turned down calls from the Universities of Utrecht and Jena, Röntgen accepts the position of Professor for Experimental Physics and Director of the Institute of Physics in Würzburg. He will work here for 12 years. In those days faculty members live in the “Pleicher” area. When going for a walk, they meet in the “Glacis”, a park surrounding the old part of town, thus creating a big circle of friends. In particular, the Röntgen and the Boveri families become close friends. Later, they will often speak of the happiest times of their lives.
Pleicherring 8 (now Röntgenring) where Prof. Röntgen discovered the X-rays., unknown, Original Source: unknown

Physical institute University Würzburg, where Prof. Röntgen discovered the X-rays.

W.C. Röntgen 1890, unknown, 1890, Original Source: unknown
Prof. Röntgen in his lecture hall., unknown, Original Source: unknown

Prof. Röntgen stands in his lecture hall in front of the described panel.

Picture of the hand of the anatomist Albert von Kölliker taken on the occasion of the first public lecture on January 23, 1896., W.C. Röntgen, 1895-11-22, Original Source: unknown
In Würzburg, Röntgen begins his research on cathode rays and their effects. During one of his experiments in a darkened room his eyes fall on brightly fluorescent crystals that happen to lie next to the cathode ray tube. He attributes this phenomenon to a kind of rays so far unknown, which he calls, X-rays. Only after tireless further investigations does he publish his discovery on the 28th of December. This will soon become a sensation. Following an invitation by the Physical-Medical Society of Würzburg, Röntgen gives his only public talk on this topic on the 23rd of January 1896. During the lecture, in front of the audience, he performs an X-ray of the hand of the anatomist Albert von Kölliker, who then suggests to rename the x-rays “Röntgen”-rays. The audience agrees in a standing ovation.
Experimental setup, Röntgenkuratorium Würzburg e.V., 2017, Original Source: unknown

Experimental setup of the discovery experiment of 8.11.1895 with Rühmkorff inductor, various tubes and the glass plate coated with barium platinum cyanide. In the foreground is a vial of barium platinum cyanide.

Wagnerian hammer of an inductor coil at Prof. Röntgen's original lab in Würzburg.

Coated glass plate with Bariumplatincyanide., Röntgenkuratorium Würzburg e.V., 2017, Original Source: unknown

The barium platinum cyanide on the glass plate fluoresces when X-rays from the Hittorf tube strike it.

X-Ray of Anna Bertha's hand., W.C. Röntgen, 1895-11-22, Original Source: W.C. Röntgen

X-ray of the hand of Anna Bertha Röntgen from 22.11.1895. It was created in the discovery lab and the exposure time was about 20 minutes. When Anna Bertha saw the picture, she said in alarm, "I saw my own death."

X-ray of lead weighs in a wooden box., Röntgenkuratorium Würzburg e.V., 2017, Original Source: unknown
X-Ray of an absorption measurement., W.C. Röntgen, 1895, Original Source: unknown
X-Ray of discharge apparatus with lead cage., W.C. Röntgen, 1895, Original Source: unknown
X-Ray of Röntgens hunting rifle., W.C. Röntgen, 1896, Original Source: unknown
X-Ray of a wooden coil with wire winding., W.C. Röntgen, 1895, Original Source: unknown
X-Ray of thin foils., W.C. Röntgen, 1895, Original Source: unknown
Meeting report of the physical-medical society in Würzburg, unknown, 1896, Original Source: University Würzburg

On November 8, 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered the X-rays. He submitted the manuscript shown here for his first communication on this discovery on December 28, 1895, to the secretary of the Physico-Medical Society of the University of Würzburg. It is printed together with the annual report in 1895.

Meeting of the physical-medical society., unknown, 1896-01-23, Original Source: unknown

Painting of the meeting of the physical-medical society of Würzburg on Jan 23rd 1896. Prof. Köllikers hand was x-rayed live. It became one of the most famous x-ray images.

The Röntgen couple in Pontresina – a frequent holiday destination also out of Munich in order to meet old friends., unknown, Original Source: unknown
The Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität appoints Röntgen to the significantly larger Institute of Physics in Munich. Röntgen therefore leaves his beloved Würzburg. There, together with his pupil Abraham Joffé, he studies the physical properties of crystals. Bertha Röntgen enjoys the milder climate in Munich that suits her affected health. Röntgen himself is also struggling repeatedly with ill health. Age and the work load at the University take their toll.
Portrait of Röntgen, unknown, Original Source: unknown
Five years after the discovery of the X-rays, the Nobel Prize committee honors Röntgen‘s achievement with the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics. The Swedish Academy of Sciences invites him to Stockholm for the ceremonial awards of the first Nobel prizes ever. On the 10th of December, Röntgen receives the diploma, the cash prize of 50,000 crowns and a gold medal from the hands of the Swedish Crown Prince, followed by a sumptuous dinner. The next morning however, Röntgen is already on his way back and leaves Stockholm without giving a speech like the other laureates. The Nobel Prize is neither the first nor the last award that this humble physicist receives. On the 10th anniversary of his discovery his colleagues donate a marble plate in his honor, which is until today installed in this house.
Nobel certificate of W.C. Röntgen., Nobel committee, 1901, Original Source: University Würzburg
Röntgen`s holiday home in Weilheim., unknown, Original Source: unknown
In the meantime, the Röntgen family has transferred its holiday home within the Upper Bavarian community of Weilheim into their permanent residence. Yet, they are not granted the privilege of spending the remaining years of their lives in peace. Bertha passes away on the 31th of October 1919 after years of illness. Röntgen had actually applied for the emeritus status in 1912, but a year later he refrained from this plan. Until the 1st of April 1920 he continues to teach at Munich University On February 10th, 1923 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen passes away at the age of 77. His ashes are laid to rest in Gießen next to the grave of his wife and his parents.
W.C. Röntgen 1920, unknown, 1920, Original Source: unknown
Röntgenkuratorium Würzburg e.V.
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Röntgenkuratorium Würzburg e.V.

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