John Hall-Edwards (1858-1926) pioneered the use of X-rays in medicine. He had long been interested in the medical application of electricity and when German scientist Wihelm Röntgen published his findings about X-rays, he applied himself to experimenting with them.
In January 1896 he became the first person to use X-rays for medical purposes when he took an X-ray photograph of a needle which had stuck inside the hand of a colleague. He then continued to use X-rays in clinical operations.
In order to make the public aware of the possibilities of the new technique, Hall-Edwards set up on Hodge Hill Common with a demonstration of X-rays in action.
The danger of the rays was unknown at the time and Hall-Edwards suffered increasingly about his hands as a result of his continuous experimentation. In 1908 his lower left arm was amputated as a result of damage caused by X-rays. He donated his hand to Birmingham University Medical School where it can still be seen. Nonetheless, for 20 years Hall-Edwards maintained his post as Senior Medical Officer in charge of the X-ray Department at Birmingham’s General Hospital in Steelhouse Lane. He also had a private radiography practice in Newhall Street.
War and Politics
During the First World War he became part of the recruiting movement, addressing mass rallies as venues such as Birmingham City FC’s St Andrew’s ground. He was promoted Major and was appointed as Senior Medical Officer of the Military Command Depot at Sutton Coldfield, later taking charge of X-ray departments at Hollymoor, Monyhull and Rubery Military Hospitals.
After the War he went into local politics winning a place on the Council in 1920 as a the Unionist candidate for Rotton Park Ward. He worked tirelessly on the Public Health, Museum & Art Gallery and Public Libraries Committees.
A blue plaque of the Birmingham Civic Society on the wall of the Children’s Hospital (formerly the General) testifies to his remarkable achievements.