William D. Coolidge

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William D. Coolidge
William D. Coolidge.jpg
Born October 23, 1873
Hudson, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died February 3, 1975(1975-02-03) (aged 101)
Schenectady, New York, U.S.
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Electrical engineering
Alma mater University of Leipzig
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Known for his contributions to the incandescent electric lighting and the X-rays art
Notable awards IEEE Edison Medal (1927)
Hughes Medal (1927)
Faraday Medal (1939)
Duddell Medal and Prize (1941)

William David Coolidge (October 23, 1873 – February 3, 1975)[1] was an American physicist and engineer, who made major contributions to X-ray machines. He was the director of the General Electric Research Laboratory and a vice-president of the corporation. He was also famous for the development of "ductile tungsten", which is important for the incandescent light bulb.

Early years[edit]

Coolidge was born on a farm near Hudson, Massachusetts. He studied electrical engineering from 1891 until 1896 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After a year as a laboratory assistant, he went to Germany for further study and received his doctorate from the University of Leipzig. From 1899 to 1905 he was a research assistant to Arthur A. Noyes of the Chemistry Department at MIT.

Ductile tungsten[edit]

Coolidge went to work as a researcher at General Electric's new research laboratory in 1905, where he conducted experiments that led to the use of tungsten as filaments in light bulbs. He developed 'ductile tungsten', which could be more easily drawn into filaments, by purifying tungsten oxide. Starting in 1911, General Electric marketed lamps using the new metal and they soon became an important source of income for GE. He applied for and received a patent (US#1,082,933) for this 'invention' in 1913. However, in 1928 a US court ruled [2][3][4] that his 1913 patent was not valid as an invention.

Improved X-ray tube[edit]

In 1913 he invented the Coolidge tube, an X-ray tube with an improved cathode for use in X-ray machines that allowed for more intense visualization of deep-seated anatomy and tumors. The Coolidge tube, which also utilized a tungsten filament, was a major development in the then-nascent medical specialty of radiology (US patent filed in 1913 and granted as US Patent 1,203,495 in 1916). Its basic design is still in use. He also invented the first rotating anode X-ray tube.


The American Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded Coolidge the Rumford Prize in 1914. Coolidge was awarded the American Institute of Electrical Engineers Edison Medal in 1927 For his contributions to the incandescent electric lighting and the X-rays art. He rejected this prestigious award in 1926 on the basis that his ductile tungsten patent (1913) was ruled by court as invalid. He was awarded the Howard N. Potts Medal in 1926 and the Louis E. Levy Medal in 1927. Coolidge was awarded the Faraday Medal in 1939. He was awarded the Franklin Medal in 1944.[5] In 1975 he was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, shortly before his death at age 101 in Schenectady, New York.

Later career[edit]

Coolidge became director of the GE research laboratory in 1932, and a vice-president of General Electric in 1940, until his retirement in 1944. He continued to consult for GE after retirement.



  1. ^ Suits, C. G. "National Academy of Sciences Memorial Biography". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  2. ^ General Electric Co. v. De Forest Radio Co., 28 F.2d 641, 643 (3rd Cir. 1928)
  3. ^ Lakshman D. Guruswamy, Jeffrey A. McNeely, Protection of global biodiversity: converging strategies. Duke University Press, 1998, p.333.
  4. ^ Briant and, C.L.; Bewlay, Bernard P. (1995). "The Coolidge Process for Making Tungsten Ductile: The Foundation of Incandescent Lighting". MRS Bulletin. 20 (08): 67–73. doi:10.1557/S0883769400045164. 
  5. ^ James E. Brittain History William D. Coolidge and Ductile Tungsten in IEEE Industry Applications Magazine, Sept/Oct 2004, page 10
  • Wolff, Michael F. (1984). "William D. Coolidge: Shirt-sleeves manager: Famous for two wide-ranging inventions, this engineer proved himself an innovative manager as he guided the renowned GE Research Laboratory through some of its most turbulent years". IEEE Spectrum. 21 (5): 81–85. doi:10.1109/MSPEC.1984.6370272. ISSN 0018-9235. *Furfari, F.A.T.; Brittain, J.E. (2004). "History - William D. Coolidge and Ductile Tungsten". IEEE Industry Applications Magazine. 10 (5): 9–10. doi:10.1109/MIA.2004.1330764. ISSN 1077-2618. 
  • Brittain, J.E. (2006). "Electrical Engineering Hall of Fame: William D. Coolidge". Proceedings of the IEEE. 94 (11): 2045–2048. doi:10.1109/JPROC.2006.885128. ISSN 0018-9219. 

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