The Röntgen Ray

By Janae Leach

Borden, William Cline. The Use of the Röntgen Ray by the Medical Department of the United

States Army in the War with Spain, 1898. Washington: n.p., 1900. Print.

This monograph by William Cline Borden discusses the introduction of radiographs into the military service of the United States in the Spanish-American War. It describes the way radiographs revolutionized the diagnosis of war injuries, especially bullet injuries, and the delay in the adoption of radiographs by the Army Medical Department. The main goal of Borden’s monograph was to get the Army Medical Department to recognize radiology as a medical specialty.

During the Spanish-American War, the United States military used radiographs for the first time as a diagnostic aid to treat the wounded. Radiographs became the main methods of probing bullet wounds, but not without the dangers of infection. Radiographs were key in determining the exact extent of bone damage in gunshot fractures, and aided in the diagnosis of joint fractures. The low mortality of American wounded in the war with Spain (95% recovered) was due to the  treatment made possible by radiography. The monograph includes countless images of the x-rays taken and a case-by-case description of each wounded soldier.

The terminology of the machines used during the war are difficult to understand, but the descriptions of the injuries each patient had were interesting and easy to follow. The many charts and detailed analyses made it a convincing piece for whoever reads it.

The monograph provides pertinent information to the history of radiology that many people may be unaware of today. Even though the technology was not perfect, the Röntgen Ray played an essential role in saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers.

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