A Hand Showing Damage From Radiation In The 1900s

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This image is of a hand showing damage because of exposure to radiation back in the 1900’s. The hand is of Clarence Madison Dally. Clarence was a glassbowler who also worked with Thomas Edison. His job was to test X-ray tubes on his hand. He died after he developed an aggressive cancer. In an unsuccessful attempt to save his life, the cancer also resulted in him having both of his arms amputated. Thomas Edison abandoned his research on X-rays shortly after his death.

In 1895, Clarence and his brother Charles, following Willhelm Rontgen’s work, worked on developing the Edison X-ray focus tube. The fluoroscope was developed using calcium tungstate. Compared to the Rontgen fluoroscope that used barium platinocyanide, the Edison fluoroscope produced sharper images. The levels of X-rays produced at that time were not considered to be dangerous. However, it was later noted by Edison that, “the X-ray had affected poisonously my assistant, Mr. Dally”.

By 1900, Clarence Dally needed time off from work because he was suffering radiation damage to both his hands and face. In 1902, he went for treatment for one of the lesion on his left wrist but was unsuccessful. He was given multiple skin grafts, however, eventually, his left hand had to be amputated. Moreover, an ulceration also developed on his right hand that required an amputation of four fingers.

The procedures were unsuccessful in halting the progression of his carcinoma. He died of mediastinal cancer, despite the amputation of his arms at the elbow and shoulder. Dally is the first American to have died from effects of experimentation with radiation. Thomas Edison abandoned his research on X-rays, following this.

In 1903, Edison said “Don’t talk to me about X-rays, I am afraid of them.”


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Dr. Aiman Shahab is a dentist with a bachelor’s degree from Dow University of Health Sciences. She is an experienced freelance writer with a demonstrated history of working in the health industry. Skilled in general dentistry, she is currently working as an associate dentist at a private dental clinic in Karachi, freelance content writer and as a part time science instructor with Little Medical School. She has also been an ambassador for PDC in the past from the year 2016 – 2018, and her responsibilities included acting as a representative and volunteer for PDC with an intention to make the dental community of Pakistan more connected and to work for benefiting the underprivileged. When she’s not working, you’ll either find her reading or aimlessly walking around for the sake of exploring. Her future plans include getting a master’s degree in maxillofacial and oral surgery, settled in a metropolitan city of North America.

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