only one of the original 1891 faculty of the University of Texas Medical Branch
who graduated from the University of Texas in Austin
was Dr. Seth Morris. When he came to UTMB he primarily taught chemistry. Everyone,
students as well as the medical staff, got to calling him “Old Test Tube” rather
than Dr. Morris. He apparently didn’t mind.
He quickly earned that name
and his reputation as the faculty’s character by doing such things as throwing
erasers at students who were dosing off, and writing chemical equations on the
blackboard with his right hand while simultaneously erasing them with his left.
All the while trains were passing and switching outside of his lecture room in
Old Red, drowning out big pieces of his lectures. Even with all of those interruptions,
he never repeated himself.
It furthered his reputation as the medical
school’s character when Dr. Morris brought the very first automobile to Galveston.
It was a 1902 Oldsmobile, and many of the townspeople thought him to be some sort
of evil witch doctor because he was able to ride around in a carriage without
a horse pulling it.
And then wouldn’t you know the UTMB witch doctor,
would be the one who came up with Texas’ first x-ray machine.
Smith Building known as "Old Red" was first medical school building in Texas.
It housed the labs in the story.
Photo Courtesy UTMB, Galveston.
| About four years
after UTMB opened, a German scientist invented a machine and process that would
photograph parts of the body as though they weren’t covered by skin and flesh.
He called it the X-ray, “X” being the universal scientific and mathematical symbol
for an unknown quantity.
Figuring that the world would want to protect
their shyness from being able to be breached by X-ray machines that, by then,
people were sure would soon be being carried around by every voyeur in London,
one company began selling underwear it claimed was X-ray proof. Hundreds of pairs
were sold. Never mind there weren’t more than a couple of X-ray machines in all
of London, and they were not only massive in size but they were extremely heavy.
There was no chance anyone would be carrying one around with him.
summer Dr. Morris got his colleague, Dr. L.E. Magnenant, to translate the scientific
papers of how the machine worked from French into English. Then he got one of
his students, Felix Miller, to fabricate one. Using an old Singer sewing machine
he adapted to work similar to a lath, Miller built his interpretation of the Rhumkoff
coil. That’s the thing that made X-rays.
It took him all summer in the
basement of Old Red to add the many turns of copper wire necessary to construct
the massive coil. The other important component was called a Crooke’s tube, and
they found one of them for sale in Philadelphia. When it was finished, the whole
thing was submerged in a crock of heavy oil which acted as an insulator. That
was UTMB’s first X-ray machine.
Toward the end of the summer, Dr. Morris
and the head of the pharmacology department, Dr. R.R.D. Cline, took the first
X-ray ever in Texas. It was a photograph of the bones in a nurse’s hand.
show the community how much on the cutting edge of medicine UTMB was, Dr. Morris
convinced a downtown department store, Fellman’s, to display that X-ray of the
bones of the nurse’s hand in one of its windows. A couple of days later the police
had to ask Dr. Morris to remove it. The public was so intrigued by it that the
sheer numbers of them standing in front of the window to see it were seriously
obstructing the sidewalk and the street.
And wouldn’t you know that the
very first time the X-ray machine was used in surgery at UTMB’s hospital it was
for the purpose of finding and then removing a bullet from a man’s leg. Naturally
someone had shot him during an argument in a downtown bar.
did most of the X-ray studies at UTMB until 1913. That was when the university
opened its first X-ray department and it was headed by Dr. James E. Thompson.
Dr. Morris went on to become a professor of ophthalmology. He was on the faculty
until 1937, and died in 1951. He was the last of the original faculty.
Cherry's Galveston Memories
March 4, 2011column
Copyright William S. Cherry. All rights reserved
a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston
County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold
thousands, and is still available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other
Cherry's Galveston Memories