The History of Metal Detecting - A Crash Course

If you are thinking about joining the hobby of metal detecting, or even if you have already been enjoying the hobby for quite some time, you have probably wondered about the history of metal detecting at one point or another.  You have most likely seen pictures of the older analog detectors used in the 70’s and 80’s.  Perhaps wondering how such heavy monsters were ever wielded.  The lightweight digital detectors of today being true advancements in ergonomics and technology.  


But what about the detectors before that?  What are the roots of this hobby?   

Many other blogs and articles talk about the first metal detector being invented by Alexander Graham Bell.  In 1881, he used one in an attempt to locate and remove a bullet from President James Garfield’s back after he was shot by Charles J. Guiteau.  The attempt to locate and retrieve the bullet was a failure however, as the metal springs of the bed he lay upon interfered with the crude metal detector.  Sadly, the President would soon perish from an infection that set in from attempts to retrieve the bullet.  Not from the gunshot itself, which was later deemed non-fatal.  However, that was not the first.  


It was in 1874 that inventor Gustave Pierre Trouvé from Paris built the first prototype metal detector.  This information eventually made its way Mr. Bell who then made his own device (most likely induction balance type).  Their reasons were the same however, to locate bullets and metal fragments from injured patients.  Mr. Trouvé’s detector also doubled as a way to find ore pockets for miners, making the first metal detector a true multi-purpose device.  


Can you imagine using an older detector like this form the WW1 era?

By F. Honoré, - Public Domain,


It was not until roughly four decades later that metal detecting would take a huge leap forward in the 1920’s.  German immigrant and inventor Gerhard Fischer was granted the first US patent for a metal detector in 1925, based off of radio direction finding.  He shared the idea with Albert Einstein who was so impressed, that he predicted the world wide use of metal detectors after seeing Fischer’s idea.


In 1931, Gerhard Fischer established Fisher Research Laboratory to develop and market the first hand-held metal detectors.  It was based out of his garage and had four employees.  They would end up producing the M-Scope metal detector that jump started the hobby of metal detecting world-wide.  First Texas Products would later go on to purchase the company in 2006 - they also own Bounty Hunter and Teknetics brands as well.


It was in the early 1970’s when a major boom to the hobby happened.  The introduction of the VLF (very low frequency) metal detector.  They are very sensitive to small objects like gold nuggets - and can reach depths of 10 inches on a coin sized object.  Most also have good discrimination circuits that can eliminate iron, foil, and many unwanted “trash” objects.  This VLF technology is what 90% of all detectors sold today still use under the hood - and the basic principles driving them have not changed much since their inception.  If you buy a “general purpose” or even a dedicated “gold prospecting” metal detector today, there is a very high chance it is VLF technology.  There is also a very good chance it was created by Dave Johnson - engineer at First Texas products.


A modern VLF detector from Teknetics. Engineered by Dave Johnson and John Gardiner.


Here we are fast forwarded to 2018 and metal detecting is more popular than it has ever been.  TV shows and documentaries about finding hidden treasure and piles of gold have created yet another boom in the hobby.  People are buying detectors every single day with the hopes of finding that retirement type find.  Large gold nuggets - rare key date coins - priceless relics - gold and silver rings covered in diamonds.  No, there are no diamond detectors.


Many of the new hobbyists get slapped in the face with a quick realization - metal detecting is not easy.  Gold prospecting is one of the hardest types of detecting there is.  Usually in hot climates - rocky and thorn riddled environments - snakes and wild animals abound.  Relic hunting is not much easier.  Almost all good relic hunting spots come included with 100+ years of nails and iron littered throughout.  Coin shooting must be easy then right?  Sure - if you count all of the pull-tabs and bits of soda can the lawn mowers run over.  Lets not forget about bottle caps, gum wrappers, and electrical interference many city parks and schools have in abundance.


It takes dedication and hard work to have fun in this hobby - yet alone succeed.  Many find it easy to enjoy.  The thrill of the hunt pushing them forward. Willing to dig 500 pull-tabs in an effort to find their next gold ring.  While others sell their brand new gold detector after the first day of not finding anything but bullets and iron scraps.  Thankfully, many metal detectors come with the above mentioned discrimination circuit.  We can eliminate the bad stuff while still finding the good.


So what are you waiting for?   Don’t be afraid to hop right in this awesome adventure of metal detecting.  You will learn about history - you will learn about geology - you will learn about electrical theories.  Best of all, you will be outdoors and receive a bit of exercise each time you bend down to check with the target is.  Plus it pays you back with coins and gold and relics.  What other hobby pays you back?


Head on over to the "Products” section of the website here and check out all of the offerings from Teknetics.  Or hit up your favorite dealer and tell him you want a Fisher machine.  The company that started it all.


Hope you enjoyed this blog - TheHunterGT signing off - I will see you on the next blog!