As part of GE’s sponsorship of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration — which is a two-year-long commemoration of President Reagan’s 100th birthday on February 6, 2011 — we’ll be taking an ongoing look at Reagan’s GE years through the lens of the employees he met and the technologies they made.
In 1954 when Ronald Reagan began his eight-year tenure as spokesman for GE, the television was already taking its place as the focus of the new home entertainment center. Color television was still a luxury, the phonograph had morphed into the “high fidelity” stereo and while slightly diminished, the faithful radio still had its place in the living room. While rudimentary television technology seemed wondrous to its early audience, few scientists or engineers could have predicted that it would serve as a forerunner not only for future entertainment applications, but also for cutting edge medical care.
Home sweet home: Take a tour of the Reagan’s home and all of its products that help them “live better electrically,” as the old slogan goes, in the General Electric Theater clip above.
On its surface, GE’s digital x-ray radiography detectors seem to have little in common with the General Electric television sets that Reagan promoted during the Eisenhower era. But as Tom Feist, the general manager of global x-ray detectors at GE Healthcare, observes, there’s an evolutionary link between the two technologies.
“The basic storyline is that the TV’s were big and bulky and that even then, there was a vision of a television that would take up less space,” Tom says. “At the time, no one had any idea of how to get rid of cathode ray tubes.”
Decades before flat screen TV’s became popular, GE engineers were trying to figure out how to create a less cumbersome television. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the company began making inroads into flat panel displays and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology and created its first color LCD displays for aircraft cockpit instrument panels. GE began developing the same flat screen displays for televisions, but got out of the television manufacturing industry in 1986.
It was from the LCD technology used in flat panel displays that Jack Kingsley, a GE researcher, developed the idea for the digital x-ray imaging device in the late 1980’s. Kingsley and his team discovered that they could use LCD technology to absorb X-rays, as opposed to giving off light. GE commercially introduced radiographic imaging in 1999 and in 2000, began marketing a digital system mammography.
One of digital’s biggest advantages is its ability to facilitate real time imaging. If a physician in Sydney needs to consult with a specialist in London, it can be done almost instantaneously. Eliminating analog film is also environmentally sound, saving on the need for fixer and developer chemicals. Tom says that today, digital x-ray imaging accounts for more than half of the x-rays used in hospital in the United States and Western Europe. He believes that ultimately it will completely replace standard film-based machines.
* Read “Coast to coast with 250,000 employees: Reagan at GE” on GE Reports
* Read “The Reagan centennial: A legacy of progress” on GE Reports
* Read Reagan essays on our website by Thomas W. Evans, Peggy Noonan, Andrea Mitchell, Tom Brokaw, and Rudy Giuliani
* See more of Reagan’s General Electric Theater spots by clicking the videos in this slideshow
* Read GE’s Centennial announcement
* Learn more about the centennial at www.reagancentennial.com
* Watch a rebroadcast of Jeff Immelt’s speech at the Reagan Library
* Read “Picturing the benefits of digital x-rays” on GE Reports