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A Century of Invention: How GE Healthcare ‘Envisioned’ the Imaging Industry Through Innovation


The “Coolidge tube” (1913) revolutionized radiology


Dr. Coolidge explains his process for producing ductile tungsten to the famed inventor and GE founder, Thomas Edison

The second International Day of Radiology this year holds much relevance for GE Healthcare. GE’s advances in CT technology through to its innovation in ultrasound equipment has gone down in history as moments that have redefined patient care in modern times and has made the organization into the global giant that we see today.

Now a publication charts the numerous milestones achieved in GE Healthcare’s first 115-year history. The book, Envision – A History of the GE Healthcare Business, captures the story of its growth from the founding of Victor Electric Company in 1893 through to the present day.

The evolution of GE Healthcare has drawn parallels with the evolution of the offerings radiology have contributed to the imaging industry. The discovery of X-Rays by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen in 1895 prompted the company to develop and eventually patent its “Coolidge” hot cathode, high vacuum x-ray tube in 1913.

This development firmly established GE as an early leader in the production and sale of x-ray tubes. In the 1930s, through a series of mergers, the General Electric X-Ray Corporation emerged as both the X-Ray industry leader and a leading producer of a wide range of such electro-medical products as air pumps, stereoscopes, centrifuges, bone surgery engines, cautery apparatus, lamps, eye magnets, thermal treatment devices, and many others.

It was the 1970s that set off the real boom period in diagnostic imaging, led by the 1972 introduction of CTAT (Computerized Trans Axial Tomography), a technology innovated by EMI of england and introduced at that year's Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting in Chicago.

In response, GE developed a "rotate-only" CT technology which is proved on a mammography scanner testbed at the Mayo Clinic. It's first clinical CT product — the CT/T 7800 — was introduced at the 1975 RSNA meeting to critical and market acclaim. "Third generation" CT had become a practical reality.

Many of the landmark achievements of the late 1970s are further detailed in the book such as 1976’s installation of the prototype CT/T 7800 body scanner at University of California–San Francisco Medical Center. This development effort launched an era of even closer collaboration between GE and academic medicine.

It was just ten years later that GE's 1.5T Signa MR system received pre-market approval (PMA), beginning the company's rapid ascent to worldwide leadership in this new technology as well.

“Common across the imaginative inventors and business leaders throughout the years was the capacity to 'envision,'” states the book’s foreword.

“Today, these dedicated GE people are envisioning ways to reduce healthcare costs and improve quality while increasing access with lower cost products.”

The book brings the company’s evolution up to date and into the 21st century with detailed, insider accounts of how GE computed tomography, magnetic resonance, and ultrasound formed the backbone of advanced diagnostic imaging of today and how GE became the first to bring to market digital mammography in 1999 in Europe and 2000 in the US. Of special interest is a detailed look at how GE's healthcare business achieved impressive growth through a series of joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions literally around the globe.


Envision – An Industry Reimagined

Originally conceived in late 2007 by the book’s authors, former GE executive, Leon Janssen, and consultant, Gene Medford, discuss many of the businesses and acquisitions that eventually became part of the GE Healthcare family.

The book uniquely assembles the narrative around the eras of each of the CEOs. The early CEOs are grouped into two eras called the “The Early Years” and the “Middle Years.” Beginning with Jim “Walt” Nelson, each CEO’s era is treated individually and has benefitted from the personal engagements of subsequent CEOs in creating the story of their eras.

To aid in this journey, over 1000 individuals, representing every era of this history and area of the organization, provide their unique insights into the history and activities of GE Healthcare and its predecessor organizations.

Approximately 400 illustrations are included that recall both major and minor events, products, places, and personalities.

The book ‘Envision – A History of the GE Healthcare Business,’ is available to order here.



800kV x-ray therapy unit at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital Institute of Radiation Therapy. Dr. Coolidge is at lower left in light suit