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Dr. John E. Engstad


X-rays were so named because this radiant energy was of unknown origin. The “X” in “X-ray” was a scientific symbol for “the unknown.” Discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895, X-rays were immediately put into practical medical use the following year.

The new technology came to Grand Forks in 1896, when Dr. John E. Engstad secured an X-ray machine, using it that December to conduct successful wrist surgery.

On this date in 1898, the Grand Forks Herald printed a small advertisement for Dr. Engstad and his fellow surgeon, Dr. A.A. Westeen, informing the public that both doctors had “studied in Germany and Italy.” Engstad, who had been born in Norway in 1858 and who immigrated to the U.S. with his parents that same year, had been practicing medicine in Grand Forks since 1885. Dr. Engstad became nationally known for founding St. Luke’s Hospital in 1892, the first hospital in the U.S. built and owned by a Scandinavian.

It was in 1898 that Dr. Engstad made headlines for an X-ray operation noted as a “peculiar case.” A man named William Dodge had accidently stepped on a large sewing needle in his home in the nearby village of Inkster. Involuntarily jumping up in pain, Mr. Dodge somehow broke the needle into two, with one end stuck in his right foot and the other half embedded in his left ankle.

In pain, Mr. Dodge visited his local doctor, who quickly plucked out the visible part of the needle, but the doctor could not locate the other half. The doctor sent Dodge to see Dr. Engstad, who “used his large X-Ray machine to locate the needle point.” The “X-Ray photograph plainly showed the needle entirely hidden between . . . two bones . . . at the ankle.” Having determined the needle’s exact location, Dr. Engstad easily removed it.

The X-ray machine proved its worth, and in 1917 Dr. Engstad bought a more powerful machine, said to be an “exact duplicate” of one at the Mayo Clinic.

Dr. John Engstad had a long medical career, passing away in 1937, at age 78, having been one of the revered “pioneer physicians” of Grand Forks.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “Physicians Engstad & Westeen,” Grand Forks Daily Herald , April 17, 1898, p. 7.

“Dr. Engstad Expects His X-Ray Machine This Week,” Grand Forks Daily Herald , September 5, 1896, p. 4.

“X-Rays and Hot Water,” Grand Forks Herald , December 18, 1896, p. 1.

“Pioneer Physician, Dr. J.E. Engstad of Grand Forks, Dead,” Bismarck Tribune , February 20, 1937, p. 3.

“An X-Ray Operation,” Grand Forks Herald , November 13, 1898, p. 5.

“X-Ray Operation,” Bismarck Tribune , November 16, 1898, p. 3.

“Dr. Engstad’s Enterprise,” Grand Forks Herald , January 12, 1892.

“New X-Ray Machine Being Installed,” Grand Forks Herald , May 31, 1917, p. 8.

“Professor Roentgen’s X-Rays,” New York Times , February 5, 1896, p. 9.

“Deaconess Hospital Collection, Historical Sketch,” Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, U.N.D., Grand Forks, ND, accessed on March 15, 2014.