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  • About RSNA
  • Part 2: The Western Roentgen Society

  • The Western Roentgen Society was founded by radiologists Miles B. Titterington, MD, Edwin C. Ernst, MD, Gray C. Briggs, MD, and Fred S. O'Hara, MD, in 1915 to serve the needs of radiologists and allied support personnel living in the American Midwest. The popularity of this new organization was apparent at the second Society meeting, a mid-annual affair held on June 9 and 10, 1916, at the Planter's Hotel in St Louis. Forty new members were admitted during that meeting. Dr O'Hara, the organization's temporary chairman, was named the Society's president for 1916. He was supported by an Executive Committee of three members: W. T. Dodds, MD, of Indianapolis; E. A. Merritt, MD, of Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Isadore S. Trostler, MD, of Chicago.

    At that St Louis meeting, Western Roentgen Society leaders determined the Society's objectives and guiding principles. They envisioned an organization that served the needs of the radiologist through continuing education. Consequently, they scheduled paper presentations, called "scientific sessions," as well as scientific exhibits, at the mid-annual and annual gatherings.

    On February 16 and 17, 1917, the annual meeting was held at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago—the same site where the Western Roentgen Society had been organized a little more than a year earlier. Seventy-six members attended; 20 new members were admitted. Heber Robarts, MD, a St Louis area radiologist and charter member who had also contributed to the development of the American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS), was honored with a Gold Medal. In subsequent years, this medal came to be considered the highest honor the new Society could bestow.

    Society Members Demand Official Journal 

    By the end of the Western Roentgen Society's second year, the United States was involved in the war that had been ravaging Europe. Society leaders, such as Benjamin H. Orndoff, MD, wanted to show the organization's support for the war effort, however, this was not easily accomplished without a Society publication. At the third annual meeting, held in Chicago at the Congress Hotel, members were demanding an official Society-supported periodical.

    When Dr Orndoff became the third president of the Western Roentgen Society (succeeding Drs O'Hara and Titterington, thus the first president who was not a Society founder or charter member), he led efforts to start a journal. "After being elected president [of the Western Roentgen Society], I committed myself to the proposition that if [friend and colleague] Bundy Allen [a radiologist from Iowa City] would become the Editor, the officers would guarantee the publication of a journal for 2 years," he said(1).

    Yet the launching of a new medical journal was an economic challenge for the Western Roentgen Society, which, at 3 years old, still did not have adequate financial resources for major projects. In fact, during the early years of the organization, Society leaders often used their personal funds to help subsidize many organizational endeavors. Despite the Western Roentgen Society's tenuous fiscal condition the first issue of the quarterly Journal of Roentgenology(2) was printed in 1918. Dr Allen was the Editor.

    For each issue of the new journal, Dr Orndoff wrote a "President's Page" in which he stressed the desirability of aiding in the war effort. He single-handedly scotched a rumor that unless a radiologist was a member of the ARRS, he or she could not receive a commission or assignment in the United States military's "roentgen division." He personally traveled to the Surgeon General's office in Washington, DC, to obtain assurances that Western Roentgen Society members would receive the same considerations as ARRS members. He then encouraged Western Roentgen Society members to enlist in the military and was in the process of entering military service himself when the hostilities in Europe ceased. Thirty-four members of the Western Roentgen Society served in various branches of the US Army and Navy during World War I.

    Society's Initial Objectives Re-evaluated 

    As the end of the second decade of the 20th century approached, the Western Roentgen Society was reaching a turning point. Society membership soon topped 500. The annual meeting was continuing to grow. For example, Society leaders had asked manufacturers of equipment necessary to the practice of radiology to display their new instrumentation for evaluation. (The income from charging manufacturers to "rent" floor space to display their products was used to support the Journal of Roentgenology, as well as other Society projects.) At the 1919 annual meeting, 19 commercial exhibitors exhibited the latest x-ray-based apparatus. With such growth, Society leaders realized that they could no longer maintain the organization as a regional group.

    President Orndoff recognized that a new constitution needed to be drawn up to redefine the mission of the expanding organization. When O. H. McCandless, MD, became the fourth president of the Western Roentgen Society in 1919, immediate past-president Orndoff was made chairman of a new Bylaws and Constitution Committee. This committee worked the entire year preparing a new set of organizational rules. In addition, President McCandless encouraged the committee to select a new name for the Society that would be "comprehensive of the fundamental energy utilized by us; a name signifying the science of radiant energy or the science of the electron(3).

    Society's Name Change 

    The first new name the committee considered was the Central Roentgen Society. But by 1919, some radiologists were questioning the accuracy of the term "roentgenology." Frenchman Antoine Béclerè had coined the term "radiologie" a few decades earlier and was well known for managing a famous weekly Conference de Radiologie at the Hospital Tenon in France. Dr Orndoff favored a change to the word "radiological" and initially proposed to rename the Western Roentgen Society the Central Radiological Society.

    After further discussion, however, the committee realized that "central" was as limiting a term as "western." Since members were being drawn from all parts of the United States and even across the border from Canada, the committee came up with the "Radiological Society of North America (RSNA)." The committee also proposed that the name of the Society's publication be changed to the Journal of Radiology to better distinguish it from the ARRS's American Journal of Roentgenology.

    At the 1919 annual meeting, Dr Orndoff read the new bylaws in their entirety to President McCandless and the Executive Committee. Dr Trostler, still an Executive Committee member after 3 years, moved that the bylaws be adopted. This motion was seconded and unanimously carried.


    1. Orndoff BH. Personal communication to Howard P. Doub, MD, 1948. 
    2. Journal of Roentgenology 1918; 1
    3. McCandless OH. President's address. J Roentgenology 1919; 2:349-354.
    The first issue of the quarterly Journal of Roentgenology, printed in 1918.