When Was The Night Vision Invented?

When was night vision invented, the first night vision device that was invented was way back in 1930s by AEG a German producer of electrical equipment. It was the first practical night vision device that was developed in Germany and was mainly used on both German tanks and German infantry during the World War II.
During the same period the US Military bring their own night vision device. The ‘sniperscope’ or ‘snooperscopes’ were M1 and M2 carbine were equipped with infrared night sighting deceives.

M2 Carbine equipped with large infrared light source to illuminate targets.

But with everything’s history, we cannot answer this question so shortly. If you are interested in finding out about the journey of the night vision device until today’s top notch technology, keep on reading to find about it.

The history of the night vision

The very first night vision devices that were created at that time where called ‘’ Generation 0’’. Those devices used an active infrared to brighten up a scene in front of the device itself. Soldiers carried an additional IR Illuminator, that was much heavier compared to today’s Infrared Illuminators, that then reflected off of objects and bounced back to the lens of the infantry’s scope and this way creating a visible image at what the soldier is looking at. The illuminators that at that time where used by the Germany’s troops called ‘’night hunters’’ where about the size of dinner plates and required a large power supply to be carried on the soldier’s back which only makes the overall process harder.

The technology was progressing very quickly and made huge leaps in improving technologies and by the time the US entered the Vietnam war, many troops where already outfitted with even bigger scopes called ‘’starlight scopes’’. They were based on an image intensifying technology to amplify available ambient light and produce an electronic image of a dark area. The quality of the image was very questionable, but for that time it was considered quite the advantage.

Starlight scope- Vietnam WAR

A different first classification of night vision devices was initially introduced in the US manufacturers through the US government. Under this periodization and until the end of World War II the devices in the US were also called as mentioned Generation 0, but were only prototypes.

The further research into night vision devices began in the 1940s. From 1944 to 1945, there were different successful tests by the German military of different weapon-mounted night vision devices called FG 1250 that were mainly mounted on Panther Ausf G tanks.

Panther AusfG tank with FG 1250

By the end of World War II, around 50 Panthers tanks have been equipped with the night vision device called FG 1250 and where on the combat field in both the Eastern and Western fronts. There was also another revolutionizing German night vision device with the main purpose of being mounted on handheld weapons, not on tank weapons – this device was called the ‘’Vampir’’ man-portable system.

ZG 1229 Vampir (Vampire)

This device was basically an active infrared device intended for only night usage. The Vampir back then, which is only the night vision device that was mounted on the rifle, weighed more than 2.5 kilograms. Those devices saw their first use on a combat field in February 1945. However smaller armed infrared devices and their introduction to the combat field took place in the early 1944.

The United States military established a night vision technology developing program around 1948 and by the 1950’s they had come up with a very useful and viable infrared night vision viewing systems. Back then, this was an active technology which means that it required a directed beam of infrared light. Although the beam itself was invisible to the naked human eye, opponents that where armed with the same technology could easily pick up the beam too.

ITT Corporation in Roanoke Virginia began producing night vision devices for the united states military in 1958. It is considered to be the first manufacturer of night vision devices ever. The United States Department of Defense founded its own night vision laboratory in 1965 which was dedicated on further working on and improving the existing technology. During the 1960’s, scientists developed the first passive night vision device that was fit to work with. This device was called Starlight. Their name speaks for themselves as they could only pick up ambient light from the stars. Those devices are what started today’s Generation 1 devices. Further development and research helped people find out that those devices actually performed best under moonlight. Generation 1-night vision devices were first introduced into the combat during the Vietnam War.

Improved technology that was developed briefly after the war led to much smaller and less bulky night vision devices with a huge improvement in resolution. Those much more reliable instruments were called the so known Generation 2. Parallel development of the night vision devices occurred in the US as well as in Germany. The M1 and M3 infrared night vision devices which back then were known under the names ‘’ sniper or snooperscope’’ saw limited service in their use in the US Army in World War II and were also used in the Korean war.

Their purpose was to assist snipers mainly. These were active devices which were using a large infrared light source to illuminate their targets. Back then, their image intensifier tube consisted of an anode and an S-1 photocathode that was mainly made out of silver, cesium and oxygen as well as an electrostatic inversion with electron acceleration that was used to achieve maximum infrared light length.

After the world war II, the first commercially made night vision device was developed by Vladimir K. Zworykin at the Radio Corporation manufacturer of America with the main intend of not combat use but more civilian use.

Zworykin’s idea actually came from a former radio-guided missile – something completely different. At that time back then the infrared technology was commonly called black light. This was a term that was later restricted to just ultraviolet. At that time this idea was not a success and the plan for commercial manufacturing of night vision devices failed due to their size and costs of making as well as that the price of one of those kind of devices for an average civilian was way outside his budget.

The United States military although was potential in those devices and continued to develop, research and refine the night vision technologies during the 1970’s and 1980’s. They started fitting a wide variety of weapons with night vision devices for troops and night vision training goggles for pilots. Shortly after where introduced the Passive Generation 2 devices that could perform under very low light conditions.

The Generation 3 technology was developed way back in 1980. These new night vision devices implemented gallium arsenide as their photo-cathode material inside the image intensifier tube. This produced much better resolution than any device so far even in the darkest conditions. United states forces used night vision devices intensively in the Persian Gulf war.

This was where the technology allowed the troops to not only see in the dark but be able to see through dust and even smoke as well. By the late 1990’s, the department of defense had reduced its fundings greatly for night vision development. In the meantime, some manufactures began searching for consumer markets for this specific gear. Individuals may to this day buy night vision devices in the United States, but the export of those night vision devices is strongly prohibited by law.

The image intensifier tube, which is the main working component of a night vision device, is from the start to this day mostly made up of millions of hair-fine fibers of optic glass. The glass is used as a way to preserve its desired characteristics when heated. Optical quality glass is mainly used for the eyepiece and output of the window.

The main construction of the night vision device hasn’t actually changed much even from the start. Other materials that are used in the image intensifier tube are phosphor and gallium arsenide. The bod of the tube is designed of most often metal and ceramics. The metal that was used way back from the start was mainly Aluminium but until today the implementation of metals like chromium and indium are commonly seen.


To summarize everything, from its very start as a pure combat device, the night vision device continues to be greatly researched into and even further developed. In today’s world, night vision devices have found their way into categories where you may not even think that a night vision device would be useful, but with our today’s advanced technology and development as well as research, no boundaries are ever set for the night vision devices.

Related Questions

  1. Who invented the first night vision device? – In 1930 a Hungarian physicist Kalman Tihanyi invented a specific infrared-sensitive electronic television-based camera for specific anti-aircraft defenses in the UK. The first military-grade night vision devices were firstly introduced to the world by the German army in the late 1930’s and were used in the whole duration of the World War II.
  2. How many generations of night vision are there? – To this day, there are four different night vision generations. They are starting from Generation 1 to Generation 4. Every single Generation that goes to the next one simply means improved quality of the pictures, performance and durability as well as going higher in market price.

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