Famous Inventors Had Their Hands on First Metal Detectors

By Daniel Bernzweig

Alexander Graham Bell and Albert Einstein are most famous for their respective inventions of the telephone and the theory of relativity. But did you know that they were both involved in the fascinating back-story of the metal detector? Each of these brilliant inventors made significant contributions to what has now become the modern electronic hand-held metal detector. And intriguingly, this device was never invented with the intention of finding treasure!

It took many great minds to get to where we are today with advanced and high-tech metal detecting machines. And the first inventor to actually receive a patent for the metal detector was Dr. Gerhard R. Fisher. He applied for and received a patent on the idea in 1933—and it was initially called the Metalloscope. But let’s rewind to 50 years earlier, to the first notion of this storied device.

Alexander Graham Bell: 1881

In July of 1881, U.S. President James Garfield was shot in the back by a delusional sniper named Charles Guiteau. Using rudimentary medical techniques, doctors poked and prodded at Garfield’s open wound, trying unsuccessfully to find the lodged bullet. In a desperate attempt to save President Garfield’s life, Alexander Graham Bell was summoned because he had helped pioneer the “induction balance.” The induction balance was an electromagnetic metal-locating device; it was believed this could locate the bullet. Unfortunately, the bullet was never found and President Garfield died. However, Bell’s cobbled together device worked correctly, so Bell often receives credit for inventing the first electromagnetic metal locator.

Electronics Engineer Dr. Gerhard Fisher: 1931

Dr. Gerhard Fisher immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920’s and worked as a Research Engineer in the field of aviation. A scientific mastermind, he promptly developed the much-needed aircraft radio direction finder. He demonstrated his invention to Dr. Albert Einstein, who predicted a proliferation in the use of the radio direction finder—on land, in the air and at sea. Interestingly, aircraft pilots using Fisher’s navigation tool discovered errors in their bearings when metal objects intercepted the transmitter; they also experienced interference over certain terrain. Upon careful examination, Dr. Fisher determined these errors were caused by the presence of highly conductive, mineralized substances. This realization led to his invention of a portable electronic prospecting instrument. It could be used to detect the presence of buried metal objects and ore deposits. This is the inception of the metal detector!

Dr. Fisher called his invention the Metalloscope— a “method for indicating the presence of buried metals such as ore, pipes and precious metals.” He received a patent for the Metalloscope (the first hand-held metal detector) in 1931. The same year, Fisher Research Labs was founded in Fisher’s garage in Palo Alto, CA. The Metalloscope was a rugged device with two large, flat wooden boxes containing simple copper coils, vacuum tubes and assorted components. It soon captivated the imagination of the country, and later—the world. The device was nicknamed the “M-Scope,” and it wasn’t long before there was a growing demand for it! Geologists could use it to locate ore, utility companies were able to pinpoint buried pipes, lumber mills detected metal inclusions in sawn logs and law enforcement could easily find hidden weapons. And on a side note: treasure hunters began to find treasure...

Fisher Labs Still a Leading Manufacturer of Metal Detectors

We can all thank Gerhard Fisher for creating the first large-scale production of metal detectors. And now—85 years later—Fisher Research Laboratory remains a leading manufacturer of metal detectors. Through the decades and into the information age, Fisher has carried on the legacy by implementing the latest technology into all of its products. Fisher Labs has also stayed true to its founder by applying a culmination of field experience from users into the design of each of its new metal detectors. Today, Fisher Labs is owned by First Texas Holdings Corporation and is headquartered in El Paso, Texas. Many detectorists swear by Fisher Labs products—calling them the industry’s best for ergonomics, user interfaces, ground balancing and target separation capability.

Today’s Modern Electronic Metal Detectors

Perhaps one of the most well-known names when it comes to metal detectors is Charles Garrett. It was Charles Garrett who designed modern, electronic metal detectors in the 1970s. Garrett was an electrical engineer engaged in America’s space effort at the time, even working for NASA. In his spare time, he built metal detectors to use in his hobby of treasure hunting. His detectors were better than anything available on the market, so they became very popular among treasure hunters. Garrett turned his hobby into a career and founded Garrett Electronics to produce his inventions. Garrett Electronic revolutionized the metal detection industry with several innovations, including the first computerized detector featuring digital signal processing. Garrett is the author of several treasure hunting texts—which are used a “guide books” by many.

Another major advance in recent detection technology comes from XP Metal Detectors for the design of the world’s first wireless metal detector, the XP DEUS. This detector’s wireless design allows for a considerable gain in signal acquisition quality. Signals no longer need to be conveyed via a wire link because they are digitized and analyzed by a miniature electronic circuit housed in the coil. XP DEUS’s digital platform includes three devices (wireless search coil, wireless digital remote control and wireless audio headphones) that communicate with each other via radio signal.

As you can see, the metal detector has come a long way since its primitive beginnings. Today, there are dozens of manufacturers and hundreds of advanced models to choose from. Specialty detectors are available for every niche of treasure hunting. And we owe our forefathers for their brilliant minds and determination.

Below, we have listed some of today’s best-selling models from the Fisher Labs and Garrett line-up:

Fisher Labs:


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