Inventor Spotlight: William Coolidge

This month, C4IP is recognizing William Coolidge, who transformed medicine with his invention of the modern X-ray.

  • Coolidge was born in 1873 in Hudson, Massachusetts, and studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Leipzig before joining the General Electric Research Laboratory.
  • He earned more than 80 patents during his career, which spanned diverse inventions from improvements to incandescent light bulbs to a system for detecting submarines.
  • Coolidge is best known for inventing the Coolidge tube, a vacuum tube patented in 1916 that became the foundational technology for modern X-ray machines.
  • Coolidge’s invention left a permanent impact on General Electric, which today is worth over $160 billion and remains one of the three largest manufacturers of X-ray equipment in the world.
  • More importantly, his invention continues to save lives: Roughly 3.6 billion diagnostic medical examinations are performed globally each year to identify and treat dangerous illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
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