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William Coolidge: Vacuum Tube for X-Ray Production, 1926

Pursuit of Opportunity

William David, an only child, was born on October 23, 1873, in Hudson, Massachusetts, to Albert and Amanda Coolidge. Growing up on a farm, he showed a boyhood inclination for photography. He attended a small local school for the first six grades and then Hudson High School. After graduating from Hudson High School with twelve classmates in 1891, he obtained a scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in nearby Boston.

Enrolled in electrical engineering, Coolidge began a lifelong association with Willis R. Whitney, his then chemistry professor. He extended his academic studies to industrial experience with summer work at Westinghouse Electric Company, a young company that had built the first AC electricity generating plant in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, during the infancy of the electrical engineering industry. Coolidge graduated from MIT in 1896 with a more focused interest in physics and laboratory research.

Germany was a center of scientific research at that time and a fellowship at the University of Leipzig gave the opportunity to pursue further academic excellence and to benefit from association with pioneering physicists Paul Drude and Gustav Wiedemann. Wilhelm C. Roentgen visited Leipzig in 1898 and so, coincidentally, Coolidge met personally with the famed discoverer of X-rays whose work he would later integrate and extend in his invention of the Coolidge X-Ray Tube.