It can be difficult to imagine a time when the military, security personnel, and even hunters did not have the use of night vision technology, whether it’s in the form of scopes, goggles, or another optical device. There has always been a sense of triumph around the fact that we can all do something many of our early ancestors could – see in the dark. Who invented it though? When did we first see night vision being used? Keep reading to find out more.
Night vision technology’s history starts a short time before the Second World War when Germany was developing primitive infrared devices. As with all things back then, the Allied nations followed suit and made their own. With these so-called ‘Generation Zero’ technologies, existing light was amplified 1,000 times. The problem is that they were often very cumbersome, bulky, and impractical, requiring searchlights that were so huge, they need to sit on top of flatbed trucks.
Huge searchlights sitting on flatbed trucks are not very inconspicuous, as you can imagine, and made them perfect targets for enemies.
During the 40s and 50s, the US army continued to work alongside the RCA, which is the Radio Corporation of America, developing what would become night vision technology more. It was in the mid-70s that scientists had developed what is now known as ‘First Generation’ passive night vision devices. That is night vision devices that didn’t require the infrared illuminator previous iterations did. Subsequent devices such as the small and compact starlight scope were important during the Vietnam War, as soldiers often found themselves fighting in environments with low light and low visibility.
By the time the 1970s came around, significant breakthroughs had been made in the development of thermal imaging, which was then further improved upon during the following couple of decades.
Who Gets Credit for Inventing Night Vision Then?
As you can see, night vision technology has a very interesting and comprehensive history. The individual who is most commonly credited with the invention of commercial night vision devices were Vladimir K. Zworykin who worked at the Radio Corporation of America. He took inspiration from a radio-guided missile. Interestingly, infrared was known as black light. A term that now only refers to the ultraviolet section of the light spectrum.
The curious thing is that the commercial plans for manufacturing night vision devices were put back on the shelf due to the cost and scale involved and the fact that they would have to retail at prices too high for most consumer’s budgets.
It was the US army that continued to see the potential in the technology though and they followed on from Zworykin’s initial work, putting development, research, and refinement into it through the 70s and 80s.
In summary, really it could be said that there was not just one inventor or one country or organization behind the invention of night vision. While the first device to use such tech was designed by AEG in the 30s, Zworykin’s work and the work of the US armed forces can’t be ignored in making it is what it is today.