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A man receiving an x-ray in Austria, circa 1910.
A man receiving an x-ray in Austria, circa 1910.Imagno—Getty Images
A man receiving an x-ray in Austria, circa 1910.
A chest X-ray in progress at Professor Menard's radiology department at the Cochin hospital, Paris, 1914.
Roentgen X-Ray Machine 1929
A man and a woman demonstrating medical equipment at a X-ray exhibition, beside a sign reading 'The Metalix Tube for Therapy,' 1928.
Filmstar Judith Allen with the radiograph of her back, circa 1930.
An x-ray demonstration with the latest x-ray apparatus. London. 1932.
The latest X-ray apparatus being operated by an radiologist wearing the old-type protectors which are no longer necessary with modern apparatus. Radiological exhibition. Central Hall. Westminster, 1934.
Woman having her head x-rayed, 15 October 1934.
Radiograph in Brazil 1937
An x-ray technician with the US Medical Corps tending to a wounded soldier during World War Two, circa 1941-1945.
Doctors using x-ray machine to feed venous catherter into patient's heart, 1947.
Small child being given chest x-ray at Chelsea Chest Clinic, 1949.
X-ray machine, at the California dental association exhibit, California state fair, 1953.
A desperate patient who has hiccups is x-rayed at the Flower-Fifth hospital Hospital in New York, 1955.
X-ray machine which circles head to take panoramic picture of teeth, eliminating usual mouthful of film, 1960.
A man receiving an x-ray in Austria, circa 1910.
Imagno—Getty Images
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See Incredible Vintage Photos of People Getting X-Rays

Jan 05, 2016
 X-ray photograph taken by Wilhem Roentgen of his wife's hand in December 1895. X-ray photograph taken by Wilhelm Roentgen of his wife's hand in December 1895. SSPL—Getty Images 

The way the story goes, one of the earliest X-ray photographs ever taken (at left here) was not made for particularly scientific purposes. As TIME later reported, Wilhelm Roentgen, the scientist who devised the process, took a picture of his wife's hand "to make her appreciate the work he was doing and forgive him for having slighted her cooking."

It was on this day 120 years ago—Jan. 5, 1896—that an Austrian newspaper first reported Roentgen's discovery. In the decades that followed, many more images would follow Roentgen's wife's hand. Some of that photography was for scientific reasons, and some not so much. In the early days, X-Ray technicians would often burn themselves or suffer from overdoses of radiation." X - rays are literally death rays," TIME declared in 1941. "A man exposed to strong enough rays for a few minutes would die within a few months. A few seconds' exposure could cause temporary and possibly permanent sexual sterility, as well as severe blood changes. These and other effects can be cumulative, picked up fatally second by second through several years."

Despite the danger, however, the judicious use of X-rays allowed great medical progress in diagnosis and treatment alike—not to mention numerous non-medical uses.

Here are 15 vintage images of X-rays at work over the decades.

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