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From Edison to Internet: A History of Video Surveillance

By Rick Delgado | Small Business

A future in which people are constantly monitored was featured in George Orwells 1939 dystopian fiction 1984. And although he may have been off on the date, he was definitely onto something with regards to security cameras. Most of us don’t think anything of video surveillance these days; they’re at the bank, on street corners, even in schools, but cameras weren’t always so ubiquitous. Here is a brief review of the history and evolution of video surveillance:

  • 1880: The first movie cameras are developed. Thomas Edison and William Dickson were two inventors who worked together but approached the the movie camera problem from two different ends. Edison worked on his Kinetophone, and Dickson focused on his own version, the Kinetograph. Together, the two inventors made the first public demonstration of a motion picture in 1893. Within a few years, commercial motion pictures were being produced and shown all across America, and the seed for video surveillance had been planted.

  • 1939: Miniature portable cameras appear. Just in time to begin to be used in modern warfare, miniature movie cameras such as the Univex 8mm began to appear. They could be held comfortably in one hand, and were operated through spring winding. Covert surveillance was made possible, because for the first time in history, a camera could be used without drawing any attention.

  • 1942: Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is first used in Germany. German scientists developed the technology so that they could monitor the launch of V2 rockets. Later, this kind of video surveillance was used in the United States during the testing of Atomic Bombs.

  • 1951: The Video Tape Recorder (VTR) is invented. The VTR was used to record live images from a television camera through the use of a magnetic recording strip. Five years later, this technology would become commercially available, and would eventually be coupled with CCTV to record surveillance for later viewing.

  • 1960: Temporary cameras are used to monitor Thai royalty in England. Police were forced to set up a couple of cameras in Trafalgar Square in London to help protect visiting royalty from crowds.

  • 1965: Public surveillance cameras become more common. Press reports from the time indicate that police had adopted the use of cameras in a number of public places.

  • 1969: The first video home security system is born. Marie Van Brittan Brown received a patent on her system which consisted of four peepholes and camera that could be moved to look through any one of them. The camera would broadcast its images to a monitor.

  • 1970s: CCTV makes a splash in the non government market. Banks and retailers began to use CCTV as an added security measure against theft. This would continue through the 1980s.

  • 1976: Charge-coupled device (CCD) technology leads to the creation of cameras that can be used in low light situations. These used microchip technology, and made round-the-clock surveillance possible.

  • 1990s: ATMs have cameras installed to record all transactions.

  • 1992: The first “Nanny Cam” is invented. As camera technology began to allow for smaller high-resolution surveillance, parents began to use covert cameras to keep an eye on their families.

  • 1993: The first attack on the World Trade Center results in increased and constant monitoring of high profile locations. This increased awareness in the possibility of terrorist attacks led other countries to begin to use surveillance cameras to monitor sporting events and other potential targets.

  • 1996: The First IP camera is released. This camera could send and receive information across computer networks. This led to later webcams, and marked the beginning of the decline of CCTV.

  • 2001: The second attack on the World Trade Center, and its subsequent destruction, pushes the public towards more personal-safety oriented surveillance. As a result, facial recognition programs and other digital advances became a higher priority. Internet based surveillance cameras become increasingly common.

  • Today: Using the internet and wireless communication, video surveillance can now be used and watched from anywhere in the world. This is put to to use to great effect in personal residences, as homeowners are now able to utilize inexpensive video surveillance as a form of home security.

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