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A short history of Hungarian radiology

About our society and journal

“… We can be proud of the fact that in this scientific developmentour nation has had a significant role – and can be predicted to have an even more important one in the future. We are not short ofscientists: Hungarian roentgenology is up-to-date in all respects.Nevertheless, as a consequence of our poor economic situation, welack two factors of great importance: the industry ofroentgentechnology and a journal of the trade.”

Béla Kelen (1926)

Like books, scientific journals have their fate, i. e., their history. No exeption to this is the journal of Hungarian radiology. It is usual with European countries that regular radiological activities of scientific value are performed in connection with the medical branches of universities. Obviously the scientific reviews of the trade, too, emerge from the same workshops. The case has been the same with Hungary, too.

It is a mere commonplace that the discovery of Röntgen rapidly spread in Hungary, too. Franz Serafin Exner, professor of physics, who had been a student of professor Kundt together with Röntgen in Zurich, received from the latter a copy of his manuscript of Vorläufige Mittheilung and a picture in late December, 1895. He presented them at one of the regular Saturday review meetings of his Vienna institute on 4 January, 1896. One of the persons present at the meeting was Franz Lechner, a Prague professor of physics. His father happened to be the editor-in- chief and proprietor of the Vienna paper, Die Presse. The next day, on 5 January the editor-inchief published what he had heard from his son in his article titled: Eine sensationelle Entdeckung. The article was reviewed by Pester Lloyd (Budapest) under the same title on 7 January (Tuesday). The same paper published the whole text of the Würzburg preliminary study – Eine neue Art von Strahlen – on 16 January (Thursday). And from this point on a continuous series of events took place. As a result of an unbelievably rapid process, medical radiology came into being. Röntgen’s faint idea became reality. His feeling that he gave an account of talking to his wife, Bertha one night a few days after his discovery, “… Ich bin nur durch eine seltsame Entdeckung länger als sonst im Institut zurückgehalten worden. So, nun kann der Teufel losgehen!” was right. “… Der Teufel ging los!”
The fact that roentgenology spread so rapidly in our country had several reasons, it did not happen by mere chance. There was a well developed network of active contacts within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. 1896 was the year of Hungarian millenary celebrations. As an achievement of the upto-date concepts of several great politicians (Ürményi, Eötvös, Trefort) the education of mathematics, chemistry and physics was of high level, both at secondary schools and at universities. A great number of professors had the chance to study at foreign universities, those of Vienna, Munich, Heidelberg, Berlin etc. Their professors were scientists like Bunsen, Helmholtz, Hertz, Planck etc. It was just natural that the country, proud of its thousand-year history and confident about its place among the leading nations of Europe, took its way following Röntgen. This is the reason why in our country the case was not only the significance of the discovery being realized, the new method quickly accepted. The application of X-ray improved as well. On 16 January, 1896 Jenő Klupathy delivered a lecture titled A Röntgen-sugarakról (On X-rays) at the Hungarian Association of Mathematics and Physics. No later published Orvosi Hetilap (Medical Weekly) in its feuilleton column Endre Hôgyes “Csontváz-photographálás testen keresztül Röntgen szerint” (Taking photographs of skeletons through the human body according to Röntgen). And this is the very minute when Hungarian roentgenology was born. The new knowledge spread rapidly in the country of the period (different in size and population from the current Hungary). Here, too, the development led to the separation of diagnostics and therapy, and the first cases of roentgenism were recorded. Medical journals of the time are full of articles of this kind. And, of course, forensic medicine took its first steps, too. Several lawsuits of the age deal with cases of roentgenism. There was an urging demand for making medical activity with X-rays organised and safe, and educated, first of all at the medical branches of the universities. At this time there was no demand for any special examination for roentgenologists but it was deemed necessary that no person without some special education should work with X-ray equipment. The earliest hint at medical radiology is to be found in the minutes of the Board of professors of the Medical Branch of the Budapest Pázmány Péter University. This tells us that Károly Kétly, professor of internal medicine asked for 1000 forints to be granted by the Ministry of Religion and Education for the cost of X-ray equipment. This proves that in 1896 it was considered a task of the university.
On 12 March, 1906 Árpád Bókay and Ottó Pertik, professors of the same university, submitted to the Medical Branch their suggestion On establishing a central institution for drawing, photography, and X-raying within the Budapest Medical Branch. No later than 27 March, the dean of the Branch appointed members of the committee that was to analyse the above-mentioned suggestion and to elaborate the final version of the plan. The manuscript of the suggestion is the birth certificate of Hungarian radiology. (These documents had been sought for for more than 90 years until László Molnár, director of the Archives of the Semmelweis University found them attached to the files of some construction Original documents of application for establish a University Röntgen Laboratory Face of the journal in 1926 work.) The first director of the institute was Béla Alexander (1857–1916), a renowned physician of the age. After Alexander’s death the institute got the name of Central Roentgen Institute. At this time it was based in the central building of the medical school. The new director was Béla Kelen. Béla Kelen (1870–1946) is an outstanding figure of the history of Hungarian radiology. He created a school, wrote coursebooks, established a scientific journal, and was a renowned representative of the physical-dosimetric principle. He was appointed full professor in 1927 and at the same time the Central Roentgen Institute was transformed into a University Chair. The consequences of this move were the following: 1. university studies of roentgenology got the framework of a chair, 2. the education was realized by a full professor, 3. the first university coursebook in Hungarian was compiled, 4. the number of the exact subjects based on mathematics and physics increased. A clinical roentgenological diagnostic school (Czunft, Molnár, Gajzágó, Róna, Bárány, Mészöly, Etelka Antal, Végh etc.) was set up at the medical school of the Budapest university that dealt with physics, technical conditions and research on the same level as radiological (X-ray, radium) therapy. They attended conventions abroad and published their achievements in leading European medical journals. The first and best examples were set, the first “headquarters school” (Zsebők) came into being. Scientific workshops, trainings, lectures at the medical association, invitation of foreign experts for presentations, publishing roentgenological results in Hungarian medical journals, revealing cases of roentgenism, problems of the increasing amount of uncontrolled and unprotected equipment in private consulting rooms of the age were all initiated by and dealt with by the department led by Béla Kelen. All this made the claim unquestionable that a medical roentgenological association and a journal of the trade were needed. It was this claim that Kelen realized when he founded the MORE (Magyar Orvosok Röntgen Prof. Béla Kelen (1870–1946) Prof. Ratkóczy Nándor (1891–1977) Egyesülete – Röntgen Association of Hungarian Medical Doctors).
This society included mostly radiologists who worked for the Medical Branch. Several famous clinical radiologists (Czunft, Ratkóczy etc.) came from this association. Parallel to this association, another talented group of radiologists, that of the Hospital of the Jewish Community founded the Magyar Röntgen Orvosok Társasága (Society of Hungarian Radiologists). An outstanding organizer, a sort of general factotum of the MORE led by Kelen was József Végh. He and his wife, Etelka Antal, a medical doctor herself, were faithful members of the department led by Kelen until the death of the latter.
The main characteristics of the “headquarters school” were the following: 1. there was a solid academic basis that the association provided and that gave impetus to the others, 2. up-to-date trends were present in university education (e. g. the first ionization chamber of Béla Szilárd, Seeman’s roentgen spectrograph, Császár’s ergometer etc.) and the tools of protection were continuously improving, 3. it became a model of national significance which has been referred to ever since. This is true both of Kelen and members of his school. At this point of time there was an effective association of university background for the first time. The original emblem of the MORE has been used ever since, even by the Hungarian Society of Radiologists, the successor in right.
The next important step to be taken was creating a strong national roentgen industry and a journal of the trade. (This was emphasized by Kelen in the text quoted at the beginning of this article.) In order to found a journal, you need capital. There can be no other source of this than an effective industry. But it had to be established as well. Professor Kelen was active and successful at this, too. He had Vendel Szighard (a mechanical engineer) build the experimental radiological equipment designed by himself (Kelen) in the cellar of the building, and he made an engineer, Árpád Keszely manufacture Szighard’s radiological equipment in the factory of Martin and Sigray. The telephone factory started to produce the machines designed by Géza Varga and Károly Hatscher. This was the starting point of developing Hungarian roentgenological technique and industry supported by Kelen, based on high level electrotechnics, and highly competitive. This achievement of Kelen’s was rewarded with the rank of titular professor. (He was appointed a full professor in 1929.)It was in 1926 that the national roentgenological industry was effective and strong enough to support a journal. After all in September the first issue of Magyar Röntgen-Közlöny (Hungarian Röntgen Bulletin) was published with the direction of Kelen. The Bulletin was owned by the MORE and published by Egyetemi Nyomda (University Printing Office). Its editor-in-chief was one of the most successful national linguists, a purifier of academic Hungarian. Finally, the Association and Hungarian roentgenology had its high standard, up-to- ate, successful, very popular, and well prepared journal. The names of senior officers, the main functions, academic achievements; time, venue and decisions of conventions and general meetings, balance of the previous term, the number of members, committees and their tasks, radiological accidents, professional faults, courts’ decisions, time and venue of trainings, costs of the latter, and the state of affairs concerning member fees were all published in it. The journal also gave regular high-level information concerning current achievements and records of physics, the biological effects of X-ray and radium, roentgen diagnostics and therapy, roentgenism, radium therapy. A great achievement was that they recorded current scientific news in due course. Hungarian roentgenologists had the chance to get all up-to-date information by reading the Bulletin. Of course, it got all the high appreciation it deserved. Both the original articles or accounts, translations of outstanding foreign authors’ (e.g., Guido Holzknecht) essays were of the highest level, even looking back. Kelen was said to be keeping a tight hand on his staff. Excellent accounts were published from László Rhorer about the radiotherapy of cancer, about biliary diagnostics (Frigyér) and the role of roentgenology in forensic medicine (already at that time!), about the technical aspects of nozzles, new Belgian radium plants, the novelties of dosimetry, and current problems of radiobiology etc. There were separate columns for News of the Association, general news and accounts of books on radiology. After Kelen retired, the Bulletin remained to be effective for a while. In 1942 Nándor Ratkóczy was appointed to be chair of the department. He took over the Bulletin as well (from the 7–8th issue of volume XVI, 1942). At first, the layout did not change. The new editor-in-chief enriched the journal. Clinical radioprotection was also dealt with. We might say that the challenges of the age were answered. I myself was well acquainted with professor Ratkóczy. He was one of those great scientists of the renaissance type. On 18 March, 1947 Zoltán Zsebôk, under-secretary of state issued the regulation that made it possible to transform the university chair into a separate University Hospital. Soon medical roentgenology became part of the curriculum of medical university studies. Students had to pass a highlevel examination in this subject at the end of the 4th year of their studies. This fact increased both the tasks of the professors and the role of the professional journal, the latter having a complementary function to the coursebook.Following the Soviet example, in 1948 a professional group of radiologists within the Trade Union of Medical Workers was created as a replacement of the Association. On 4 October, 1948 Nándor Ratkóczy was elected chair of the group. It was in 1949 that as a successor of the Bulletin, the new journal, Radiologia Hungarica was first published. The editor-inchief was Ratkóczy, while Hrabovszky, Wald, and Hajdu were the editors, and József Végh was the publisher. The main features, just like the quality of the journal more or less reflect the overall political situation of the time. (Nowadays you can’t help smiling at the fact that radilogists were forced to set special goals and promise special achievements in honour of the following congress of the Communist Party.) But as for the editors, they did their best to create the highest possible level scientific journal. Ratkóczy retired in 1962. His successor in all his functions – as professor of the University Hospital, as chair of the Association of Hungarian Radiologists, and as editor-in-chief of the professional journal – was Zoltán Zsebôk. (Two changes had taken place during the Ratkóczy era: 1. the professional group of radiologists became Magyar Radiológus Társaság (Association of Hungarian Radiologists), while 2. Radiologia Hungarica changed its title to Magyar Radiológia (Hungarian Radiology). During the period of Zoltán Zsebôk, both the Association and the professional journal developed a lot. The latter was published on excellent printing paper which improved the quiality of pictures. The number of pages increased, the topics became more up-to-date. At the same time, there was no significant change in the basic editorial principles or structure of the journal. The editor-in-chief and József Végh, the editor did an enormous job of excellent quality, a milestone in the history of radiology. Professor Zsebôk as editor-in-chief was followed by professors Gyula Varga, Ferenc Horváth and Mózes Péter. For a few decades the chair of the Association and the editor-in-chief of the journal have most of the times been different persons. The current editor- in-chief is Béla Lombay, who is also the president of the society.There are a few other facts to be mentioned. Mention has been made of a second association of medical radiologists, called Magyar Röntgen Orvosok Társasága (Society of Hungarian Radiologists). There are memories of a professional journal published by them under the title Röntgenológia (Roentgenology). Unfortunately, not a single copy of it has been found so far.When looking at the volumes of Magyar Röntgen-Közlöny, Radiologia Hungarica, and Magyar Radiológia, we should not only think that they incorporate the classical way of storing data according to Gutenberg’s method. They mean more to us. This treasury of international and Hungarian radiology was created by human beings, now already dead or still alive, in order to save the ideas of the past for future generations. And they did so among sometimes difficult circumstances, not always appreciated by their contemporaries. Now we wish to pay tribute to the editors-in-chief, the editors, and all the contributors with the following idea, never to be forgotten, of Samu Benkô an old pathologist, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences:“… It is the example of the laureates and that of the livesand work of those long forgotten that proves that in thishistorical area those who tried to lead their honest livesidentified with the fate of the community somehow in anintellectual way had to suffer from troubles and bitterness.Nevertheless, their example has shown their successorsthe brightness of the pleasure of creation, and thenumber of variations of it which are still to be experienced.”(Benkő, 1784)Should the founders of Hungarian Radiology become part of this brightness of the pleasure of creation just as they deserve the appreciation of their readers, colleagues and successors who also find their pleasure in learning. The honesty of the ancestors’ enterprise has a never ending effect. It educates – as it sets an example. dr. Szabolcs Mózsa


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