Dr. Henry Louis Smith was a professor of physics at Davidson College in North Carolina where he was pioneering the use of X-rays in America. He planned to duplicate the work of the German physicist who discovered x-rays. Smith made the mistake of telling his students about his plans. On the night of January 12, 1896, three of Smith’s students bribed a janitor to let them into the medical laboratory on campus, where they played around until the wee hours, finally producing an X-Ray photograph of two .22 caliber rifle cartridges, two rings and a pin inside a pillbox,some pills, a magnifying glass and a human finger they had sliced from a cadaver with a pocketknife — a historical first in the United States. Smith went on to create his own images and to spread the use of x-rays throughout the medical community. The students kept their little adventure a secret until years later when they decided they would probably be forgiven for their naughtiness if they revealed their part in making history.
X rays have since then become an important tool in medicine, saving many lives and other such noble stuff, but what has been more important to generations of boys is the concept of x-ray vision — the ability to see what’s on the other side of a wall, in a box, or under various articles of clothing. Most boys learned about x-ray vision from Superman, easily the most famous employer of the art (preceded by another comic book hero, Olga Mesmer, although wasted to some degree, her being female). Superman only used his powers of x-ray vision for completely innocent pursuits such as the apprehension of bad guys. However, those bad boys who sent for the x-ray spectacles advertised in comic books are quite another story.