Wilhelm was born on March 27, 1845 at the Lennep in the lower Rhine Province of Germany. At the age of three he and his family moved to Apeldoorn in the Netherlands where he attended the Institute of Martinus Herman van Doorn. As a child he was very fond of nature and enjoyed roaming in the open country and forest. In 1862 he entered a technical school at Utrecht, where he became more interested in mechanical science and also studied physics. In 1865, he entered the University of Utrecht to study physics. However, he lacked the credentials required for a regular student. His dreams of higher education were shattered. Fortunately, he learnt that the University of Polytechnic at Zurich acknowledged students without necessary credentials. The only prerequisite was to pass the entrance examination. Roentgen applied for admission and upon examination of his documents and letters, the examination was waived. He regularly attended the lectures imparted by Clausis (one of his professors) and also worked in the laboratory of August Kundt, a German professor.
Both Clausis and Kundt greatly influenced him. In 1868, at the age of 23, Roentgen graduated as a mechanical engineer with excellent grades. In 1869, Roentgen was awarded a Ph D degree from the University of Zurich for his dissertation Studies on Gases. Roentgen served as an instructor in chemistry and even wrote a section in the textbooks written by Dr Jan Willem. Roentgen's life was flowing smoothly, when a sudden turn of events altered his life. Towards the end of his studies at the technical school, a degrading caricature of one of the teachers appeared on the blackboard. As Roentgen refused to reveal the name of the mischievous student, he was expelled from the school, accused of being an ally. After that, he attended courses and was privately tutored.
In 1894, Roentgen's attention was captured by the work on the "cathode rays" of Philip Lenard, a contemporary physicist.