ua en ru

Ivan Puluj: Outstanding Ukrainian who discovered X-rays long before Röntgen

Ivan Puluj: Outstanding Ukrainian who discovered X-rays long before Röntgen Puluj is not only a physicist (collage: RBC-Ukraine)

Ivan Puluj is a figure not well known to many of our contemporaries. However, over a hundred years ago, this outstanding Ukrainian fundamentally changed the world with his research and inventions.

RBC-Ukraine tells the story of Ivan Puluj—his work, inventions, and achievements.

Sources of information used in preparing the material: Wikipedia, the YouTube channel State Agency of Ukraine for Cinema,, Ivan Puluj Ternopil National Technical University, and the virtual museum of Ivan Puluj.


Ivan Pavlovych Puluj was an outstanding Ukrainian physicist, electrical engineer, inventor, publicist, translator, and public figure.

He was born on February 2, 1845, in the town of Hrymailiv. Today, this urban-type settlement is in the Chortkiv district of the Ternopil region, but at that time, it belonged to the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Ivan's father, an educated Greek Catholic named Pavlo Puluj, served as the mayor of Hrymailiv from 1861 to 1865. His mother was Kateryna Burshtynska.

The Puluj family was religious and prosperous, engaging in agriculture and beekeeping, owning 36 hectares of land and around 100 beehives.

Early education

Initially, the future scientist completed his primary education in Hrymailiv. After that, he enrolled in the Ternopil Classical Gymnasium.

During his studies at the gymnasium, he became a co-founder (along with the Barvinsky brothers, Oleksandr and Volodymyr) and an active member of the secret society of Ukrainian youth called Hromada. The society met three times a week (after lunch) for thematic sessions: Wednesdays focused on history, Saturdays on literature, and Sundays included recitations and readings from the Bible.

As a first-year student, the educated young man translated a geometry textbook into Ukrainian for Ukrainian gymnasiums (even though such textbooks did not exist at that time).

In 1865, Puluj graduated from the gymnasium, as already a fully formed personality—a patriot who was firmly aware of the purpose of his life and understood what he needed to do to achieve it.

Файл:Іван Пулюй.png

The early education of the young Ukrainian laid the foundation for his future achievements (photo: Wikipedia)

Education in Vienna

In the same year 1865, Ivan enrolled in the Greek Catholic Theological Seminary in Vienna. There, he combined his studies with translating spiritual literature into the Ukrainian language.

In 1865, he founded a society of Ukrainian theologians in Vienna.

In 1869, together with other Ukrainian students associated with the Hromada movement, he founded the legal student society Sich in Vienna (later highly praised by Ivan Franko). He compiled and published a Prayer Book in the vernacular.

Against the backdrop of his literary activities, in 1869, he first met Panteleimon Kulish (in Vienna).

Later, in 1871, together with Kulish and Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky, he undertook the first translation of the Bible into Ukrainian. At that time, translations of the four Gospels - John, Luke, Matthew, and Mark - were also published.

During the last year of his education in the theological seminary, he attended lectures on mathematics, physics, and astronomy at the University of Vienna. During that time, he excelled in exams on fundamental university mathematical courses.

The sciences captivated the young Puluj so much that he abandoned his future spiritual career (initially planning to become a priest) and became a student at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Vienna.

His studies continued from 1869 to 1872, and from 1872 to 1874, he worked as a researcher in the physical laboratory of Professor Viktor von Lang.

At a certain point after completing his university studies, Puluj wanted to return to Ukraine to live and work there. However, in the Russian Empire, he was considered unreliable and was denied employment.

The first achievements

In 1874, Puluj published his first two articles in the journal "Reports of the Vienna Academy of Sciences." These articles were dedicated to the study of the dependence of air internal friction on temperature.

From 1874 to 1875, he taught physics, mechanics, and mathematics at the Naval Academy in Fiume (now Rijeka, the third-largest city in Croatia).

During this time, the young inventor constructed an apparatus for measuring the mechanical equivalent of heat, which became widely known in the scientific community (in 1878, he was awarded a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Paris).

Неймовірні факти про видатного українця, який відкрив Х-промені задовго до Рентгена

The Puluj apparatus for determining the mechanical equivalent of heat (photo: Wikipedia)

In 1875-1876, Puluj (as a scholarship holder of the Austrian Ministry of Education) studied and worked at the University of Strasbourg in France, specifically at the physical institute of Professor August Kundt. Among his "colleagues" were Nikola Tesla and Wilhelm Röntgen.

The Ukrainian scientist and Tesla conducted, among other things, electrical experiments with cathode rays and gas-discharge lamps. Meanwhile, Röntgen became fascinated with problems in the physics of solid-state matter.

In 1876, Puluj defended his dissertation on The Dependence of the Internal Friction of Gases on Temperature and obtained a doctorate in physics from the University of Strasbourg.

In 1876, Puluj returned to Vienna and worked as an assistant and private lecturer at the University of Vienna until 1883.

It was in Vienna that he invented a device now known as the Puluj lamp. In parallel, the Ukrainian scientist created a new design for an incandescent lamp that significantly increased its service life, and he obtained a patent for it. He also patented a portable miner's lamp.

Неймовірні факти про видатного українця, який відкрив Х-промені задовго до Рентгена

A screenshot

During 1880-1882, four important articles by Puluj were published in the Reports of the Vienna Academy of Sciences. They were dedicated to the so-called cathode rays, which had significant resonance among physicists of that time. Essentially, they dealt with electronic beams of light, laying the foundation for a new branch of science - electrotechnics.

Thus, during those years, Puluj began actively working in the field of electrotechnics. The electrical devices he constructed were awarded diplomas at the World Electrotechnical Exhibition in Paris in 1881.

In 1883, he became a founding member of the Electrotechnical Society in Vienna. That same year, after the electrotechnical exhibition (where the inventions of the Ukrainian also caused considerable excitement), the renowned entrepreneur and inventor Josef Werndl invited Ivan to move to the Austrian town of Steyr.

He agreed, and for almost a year, he worked as a consultant and director of a factory producing lamps of his own design - ensuring the great success of the electrotechnical exhibition held in Steyr in the summer of 1884.

Relocation to Prague

The remarkable achievements of the Ukrainian scientist did not escape the attention of the authorities and the German Technical University in Prague. In 1884, at the invitation of the Ministry of Education of Austria-Hungary, he moved to the Czech capital (which became his second home and the site of his greatest scientific achievements).

In the same year, in the fall, Puluj was appointed as a professor of experimental and technical physics at the German Technical University in Prague (now the Czech Technical University). There, he lectured on physics and electrical engineering and engaged in persistent experimentation.

It was during this period that the Ukrainian discovered invisible rays that penetrate through solid bodies and began researching them. In conversations with his close associates, he claimed to have succeeded in seeing the invisible.

In 1888, Puluj founded the Electrical Engineering Society in Prague, where he served as the head for many years.

For the academic year 1888-1889, the inventor was elected rector of the educational institution, and in 1890, he became the dean of the mechanical engineering faculty.

In 1889, the London Physical Society (British scientific society) translated and published Puluj's monograph on the study of cathode rays into English. The work became a separate volume in a series called Physical Memoirs, which compiled the results of the most important physical research beyond the borders of Great Britain.

Неймовірні факти про видатного українця, який відкрив Х-промені задовго до Рентгена

Professor Ivan Puluj (photo: Wikipedia)

Discovery of X-Rays

The investigation of cathode rays paved the way for two important discoveries in classical physics - X-rays (in 1896) and the electron (in 1897).

In early 1896, Puluj conducted fundamental research on the nature and properties of the newly discovered X-rays.

In January, the scientist made and published several unparalleled photographs taken with these rays, using a special "tube" or "lamp" he had constructed in 1881 (initially used for room lighting).

With this apparatus, Puluj obtained the first high-quality "X-ray" image of the complete human (child's) body.

On February 3, 1896, using Puluj's tube, the first successful experiment with X-ray imaging for medical purposes was conducted on the American continent.

The researcher's first comprehensive article on the origin and photographic action of these rays was published on February 13, 1896, in the Proceedings of the Vienna Academy of Sciences. The following month, on March 5, another article on the scientist's research results was published in the same journal.

These articles covered:

  • Determining the origin of X-rays and their spatial distribution
  • Their ability to ionize atoms and molecules
  • Explaining the nature of these rays
  • Discovering the wide range of applications of X-rays in medicine.

Неймовірні факти про видатного українця, який відкрив Х-промені задовго до Рентгена

The image of the researcher's daughter's hand, taken in 1896 (photo: Wikipedia)

The official discovery of X-ray radiation is attributed to the German scientist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, who published a report titled On a new kind of rays on December 28, 1895. However, the Puluj lamp, which emitted X-rays, had been invented fourteen years earlier.

Modern researchers note that Röntgen might have been credited with the discovery of X-rays only because Puluj's invention was not well-documented in a timely manner. Additionally, when the Ukrainian scientist learned about this fact, he felt saddened and repeatedly stated, "These tubes (lamps emitting light - Ed.) are mine."

Albert Einstein, a renowned physicist who was acquainted with the Ukrainian scientist, recognized Puluj's priority in these studies. In one of his letters, Einstein tried to console the inventor: "I cannot comfort you. What happened cannot be changed. Let it remain your satisfaction that you contributed your share to the epochal discovery. Isn't that something? And when you think clearly, everything has its logic. Who stands behind you, the Rusyns - what culture, what actions? It's sad for you to hear this, but where can you escape from your fate? And as for Röntgen - the whole of Europe is behind him."

Puluj responded to those words with: "What has to happen will happen for sure. And what happens will be the best. Because it is the will of the Lord."

Biographers of Röntgen also note several interesting facts:

  • After inventing his lamp, Puluj gave Röntgen, with whom he had an active correspondence, several copies
  • During the discovery of X-rays, Röntgen remarked on the accidental nature of this event
  • Unlike the Ukrainian scientist, Röntgen did not pay attention to the practical application of this discovery
  • Röntgen never admitted to using which tube he actually made his discovery and never mentioned Puluj's lamps anywhere (although they were quite widespread and produced industrially in Leipzig at that time)
  • Before and after receiving the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901, Röntgen never mentioned Puluj in his publications
  • Before his death, Röntgen bequeathed to burn his entire personal archive, including laboratory notes and correspondence.

So it's not surprising that a large number of modern scientists believe that in his research, Röntgen could well have benefited from Pulyui's inventions and other contributions.

Further work

In 1902, the Ukrainian inventor founded and headed the Department of Electrical Engineering at the German Technical University in Prague.

Moreover, in the 1890s, he played a crucial role as the leader of the design and construction of many alternating current power stations in the Czech Republic.

The quality of the projects and their implementation was exceptionally high, even meeting the ecological standards of the contemporary era (the residents of Prague still use electricity provided by the Puluj's power station).

The distinguished Ukrainian also contributed to the launch of trams in Prague and the development of telephone networks.

In 1906, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the German Polytechnic, the Ukrainian inventor was awarded the Order of the Iron Crown, 3rd class, for his scientific and educational work.

In 1910, Puluj received the Order of Franz Joseph and the prestigious title of Court Counselor. In 1913, he was elected an honorary member of the Vienna Electrical Engineering Society.

In 1916, the scientist even received an offer for the position of Minister of Education in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy but declined due to health reasons. That same year, he retired.

Ivan Puluj passed away on January 31, 1918, in Prague, which was part of the Kingdom of Bohemia within the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time. He was buried in the Malvazinky cemetery near the central part of the city.

Неймовірні факти про видатного українця, який відкрив Х-промені задовго до Рентгена

Commemorative plaque on the wall of building No. 9 on Škodagasse Street, Vienna (photo: Wikipedia)

Connection with Ukraine

Puluj was proficient in about 15 languages, including classical ones, and never lost his connection with his homeland.

While working in European scientific centers, he did not forget his Ukrainian origin and did not become a cosmopolitan. Instead, both he and his family remained conscious Ukrainians.

In 1884, Puluj married Kateryna-Yosyfa-Mariia Stozitska, a student at the University of Vienna. The couple had 15 children, of whom six survived to adulthood—three daughters (Nataliia, Olha, and Mariia) and three sons (Oleksandr, Yurii, and Pavlo).

As there were no Ukrainian schools in Prague, where the family lived, teachers of the Ukrainian language were sought for the children during the summer months.

The scientist jokingly referred to his family as a small state, where he gladly took on the roles of minister of education, finance, and internal affairs.

After their father's death, Yurii and Pavlo studied at a Ukrainian gymnasium in Lviv, while the eldest son, Oleksandr, joined the Sich Riflemen as a 17-year-old volunteer and fought in the ranks of the Ukrainian Galician Army until 1920.

Puluj himself was actively engaged in public activities. He supported the idea of establishing a Ukrainian university in Lviv and was a member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society.

Additionally, he organized scholarships for Ukrainian students in Austria-Hungary. He published articles in support of the Ukrainian language and independence.

The scientist believed that "there is no greater honor for an intelligent man than to cherish his own and national honor and to work faithfully for the good of his people, without reward, to secure a better fate for them."

The scientist's goal was the education of his people, support, and the study of the Ukrainian language, literature, and history among the people.

He appealed to the Russian authorities and the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, demanding permission for the dissemination of the Holy Scriptures in the Ukrainian language in the Russian Empire. He even obtained permission from the Japanese General Nogi to spread spiritual writings in the Ukrainian language among Ukrainian soldiers taken prisoner during the Russo-Japanese War.

In 1914, he became one of the leaders of the Committee to aid Ukrainian refugees from Galicia, occupied by Russian forces, as well as wounded Ukrainian soldiers and prisoners of war.

Puluj truly believed that "the greatest and most important desire, idea, and main goal of our national aspirations is a liberated, free Ukraine, where there should be no oppressed and no oppressor, where the Ukrainian people, after long years of slavery, will finally lead free national life in all directions, develop freely their great spiritual abilities, and participate in the enrichment of the treasures of culture for all of humanity."

Furthermore, the inventor emphasized that "the independence of Ukraine is the key to peace in Europe."

Currently, a higher education institution is named after the prominent Ukrainian scientist – Ivan Puluj Ternopil National Technical University. A virtual museum dedicated to Puluj has even been created.

Several streets in Lviv, Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Dnipro are named in his honor.

You can also read about seven popular games worldwide invented by Ukrainians.