National Museum of American History Marks 50 Years of Lasers

Display Highlights the Inventors and Uses of Lasers
January 31, 2010
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser with a special display case on the first floor. “Fifty Years of Lasers” explores the types of lasers developed over the past half century and their wide range of uses.

Theorized by Albert Einstein in 1917, the first working laser was developed in 1960 by American physicist Theodore Maiman. Inventors at IBM and at Bell Labs demonstrated different types of lasers later that year. Since then the laser has been adapted into a wide variety of functions. From grocery store scanners to fiber-optic communication, more than 55,000 patents involving the laser have been issued in the United States. “Fifty Years of Lasers” features objects from the inventors and examples of practical and entertaining uses of lasers.

“The laser has made critical contributions to science in the past century,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “Commemorating the invention highlights American ingenuity and the significant role lasers play in everyday life, from medical treatments to viewing a movie on DVD.”

The museum has contributed a number of images related to the history of the laser from its Electricity Collections to an online exhibit, “Bright Idea: The First Lasers.” Created by the American Institute of Physics in cooperation with leading scientific and engineering societies, “Bright Idea: The First Lasers” is online at http://www.aip.org/history/exhibits/laser.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, the museum explores stories of freedom and justice, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).