Henry Green Asked About Thomas Edison’s Theory on X-rays and Blindness

11/27/1896 |

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The Hartford Courant asked Henry Green for his thoughts on Thomas Edison’s theory that x-rays could be used to restore sight in blind people. He told the Courant that x-rays could not heal either a lens or optic nerves that had been destroyed, but he thought that in cases in which there was still some function in the optic nerve it could be the case that x-rays stimulated the nerve beneficially.

Neat Little Tidbit

Green himself was blind in one eye – he’d lost sight in one eye as a young man.

Trust but verify

According to the Courant article, Thomas Edison had conducted an experiment in which he'd had a blind man stare into a fluoroscope -- in other words, he'd focused x-rays directly into this man's eyes in order to restore his sight!  The man who was the subject of the experiment apparently reported being able to see some light.

Put into context

As odd as it may seem, there were strong, early beliefs in the curative powers of x-rays – everything from migraines to cancer.  No one fully understood how dangerous x-rays were, but they came to understand it in much the same way Henry Green would, as x-rays began to kill him and other researchers over time.  In fact, Green’s steady progression toward the liver cancer that would kill him was chronicled in the Courant.

Speculation without facts

Green clearly had become something of a local authority on x-rays, and he was one of three people the Courant contacted for comment.  The other two other experts were William T. Bacon, a prominent local doctor who specialized in eyes and ears, and Arthur J. Wolff, a local doctor, prominent “microscopist” and scientific photographer who had given public demonstrations on x-rays with William Robb at Trinity College.  Bacon declined to comment, as he knew nothing about Edison’s experiment, and Wolff didn’t put much stock in the theory.  Only Green held out that there could be something to it, under the right circumstances, and that makes it look like Green was promoting his business rather than confining himself to the science.

Sources

Unattributed, "X Rays for the Blind: What Henry Green, Dr. Bacon and Dr. Wolff Say about the Theory," Hartford Courant, November 28, 1896, page 4.

Henry Green

History


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