Oldest X-ray in the world

A major discovery in Teylers Museum collection

Jun 14, 2019 to Jul 14, 2019

A spectacular discovery has recently been made in the collection of Teylers Museum. An extremely rare, complete set of the oldest X-rays in the world was found. Printed by Wilhelm Röntgen himself and then sent to Lorentz. The prints, including the famous photograph of the hand with ring of Röntgen’s wife, which was once included in the world’s 100 most influential photographs in the world by Time Magazine, will be on display in Teylers Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands until 14 July 2019.


“I have seen my death!” Bertha Röntgen is said to have exclaimed in horror when she saw the radiograph that her husband took of her hand with ring using the mysterious ‘X-rays’ he had recently discovered. At the beginning of November 1895, the Dutch-German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen made his first observation that lead him to discover this new form of radiation. Even more miraculous is the observation that followed after that: Röntgen saw a reflection of his own skeleton when he stood between the source of X-rays and a screen sensitive to light.

A rare set of prints

At the end of December 1895, Röntgen prints several sets of photographs. He sends them to a small group of leading physicists, including Lorentz, as evidence to support his publication presenting his discovery of X-rays to the world. These first prints are extremely rare. As far as we know, there is only one other complete set in London.

There are very few discoveries in the field of physics that have lead to such a rapid and widespread application – mainly in health care – as this discovery by Röntgen. Within a year after Röntgen’s publication, several hospitals in the Netherlands already owned X-ray equipment. In many cities, private X-ray institutions were opened.

The Lorentz Lab

Hendrik Antoon Lorentz worked as the director of Teylers Physics Laboratory from 1910 until his death in 1928. These spectacular prints turned up recently in the collection of publications that were part of the personal estate of Lorentz now owned by Teylers Museum. These scientific articles, several thousands of them, were sent to him by Dutch and international colleagues, including Einstein.