HomeMetal Detector NewsThe History of Metal Detectors: From Military Use to Modern-Day Treasure Hunting

The History of Metal Detectors: From Military Use to Modern-Day Treasure Hunting


If you're one of the hobbyists who are curious about the captivating world of metal detecting, you may wonder about the fascinating history behind it. Perhaps you've seen pictures of bulky analog detectors from the 70s and 80s and wondered how they were ever used. Nowadays, we have sleek and intelligent digital detectors that have revolutionized the game with their ergonomic design and advanced technology.


In this blog, we'll dive into the rich history of metal detectors, tracing their evolution across different times.


The First Metal Detector Comes Out: An Interesting Story


Believe it or not, the metal detector you're using today has a wild history, even involves a former president!


Back in the mid 1800s, after electricity was invented, scientists, scholars, and gold miners started tinkering with the idea of building a machine that could locate buried metals. But the first metal detector wasn't actually invented for finding gold - it was born out of a dramatic event in 1881 when President James Garfield got shot, and the bullet got lodged inside his body. This puzzled the doctors and they didn't know exactly where the bullet was.


Renowned inventor Alexander Graham Bell, known for his groundbreaking work with the telephone, was called upon to assist. He devised a metal detector and tested his invention on Civil War veterans with bullets lodged in their bodies and it worked flawlessly. However, when he tried to locate the bullet in President Garfield, the device failed to give an accurate reading. The president was lying on a bed with metal springs, which interfered with the metal detector's signals. Ultimately, Bell's invention couldn't save President Garfield who succumbed to infection of wounds.


Therefore, the first metal detector was born out of this tragic event, paving the way for a technology that would revolutionize various fields in the coming years.


What were used for detecting before the first metal detector appeared?


Before the invention of metal detector, early methods involved dowsing rods or divining rods, which were believed to have the ability to locate underground objects, including metals. However, these methods were lacked the accuracy and reliability of modern-day metal detectors.


For example, dowsing, a curious technique, used a Y-shaped twig or rod to supposedly find hidden metals. Dowsers, like enchanting treasure whisperers, interpreted the rod's movements to uncover buried riches.


Another captivating method, "tapado," hinged on miners' sharp hearing. Tapping rocks with a hammer, they discerned metallic secrets from the resulting sounds. This acoustic detective work required finesse and was a unique craft. Other early methods of metal detection included the use of magnets and compasses, but they were not as effective as modern metal detectors.


Ultimately, these delightful and peculiar techniques laid the foundation for metal detector technology and revolutionized the world of detection.


How the Original Metal Detector Develops


Although it didn't succeed in its initial mission to save the 20th President of the United States, the machine was a substantial breakthrough in the world of metal detection. In the initial days, these machines were quite bulky, intricate. Nonetheless, they turned out to be highly advantageous and continued to become increasingly popular, and they were implemented to locate and clear landmines and unexploded bombs scattered across Europe after the culmination of WWI and WWII.


In the 1920s, Gerhard Fisher, an ambitious engineer, stumbled upon a curious phenomenon while navigating aircraft. Radio navigation errors, caused by minerals in the ground, sparked a lightbulb moment. Fisher harnessed this peculiarity to create the modern portable metal detector, patenting the "Metallascope."


World War II added a dash of adrenaline to the metal detector's saga, as armies needed to locate mines and hidden weaponry. Consequently, detectors shed weight and bulk, transforming into sleek, portable lifesavers.


Post-war, treasure hunters gleefully adopted these nimble gadgets, unearthing relics and riches. Beachcombers, armed with detectors, scoured sands for shimmering trinkets, turning the hobby into an exhilarating pastime.


So as the original metal detector develops, its potential uses extended far beyond just locating buried metal objects - it has been utilized in a variety of industries and fields, from the military to treasure hunting, and even in everyday activities.


Uses of Metal Detectors: From Military Use to Treasure Hunting


The first metal detector was invented in the late 1900s, but it wasn't until the early 20th century that they were first used in the mining industry to help locate mineral deposits. Soon after, they were used in archaeology to uncover ancient artifacts and historical treasures and so on.


Military Use


During World War II, metal detectors played a critical role in detecting landmines and other explosives buried in the ground. Portable metal detectors were developed, allowing soldiers to scan the ground for metal objects quickly and efficiently. Metal detectors were also used in the Vietnam War to detect tunnels and weapons caches. In modern times, metal detectors are still used in the military for detecting explosives and other threats.




Metal detectors were first used in the early 20th century in the mining industry to locate mineral deposits. They were used to detect precious metals, such as gold and silver, as well as base metals like copper and iron. Metal detectors have been instrumental in the discovery of many valuable mineral deposits, helping to drive the mining industry forward.




Archaeologists have used metal detectors to uncover ancient artifacts and historical treasures. Metal detectors are also used in the construction industry to locate metal pipes and other objects buried in the ground. In recent years, metal detecting has become a popular hobby for people of all ages and backgrounds. Hobbyists use metal detectors to search for lost jewelry, coins, and other valuables. Some even search for historical artifacts or treasures buried deep underground.


Treasure Hunting


Metal detectors became popular in the 1970s with the emergence of treasure hunting. Treasure hunters used metal detectors to search for hidden artifacts and treasures buried underground. Modern-day metal detectors are much more advanced and can detect metals at greater depths.


In recent years, metal detecting has become a popular hobby for people of all ages and backgrounds. Many hobbyists use metal detectors to search for lost jewelry, coins, and other valuables, while others search for historical artifacts or treasures buried deep underground.


Modern Advances in Metal Detector Technology


Advances in technology have led to metal detectors that are more accurate, sensitive, and user-friendly than earlier models. Modern metal detectors also have features such as discrimination, target size and depth indicators, and customizable settings.


Digital signal processing, improvements in sensitivity and target discrimination, and the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning have all contributed to the evolution of modern metal detectors.


Digital Signal Processing


Digital signal processing (DSP) is a technique used to enhance the accuracy and reliability of signals. In the context of metal detectors, DSP can improve signal processing and noise reduction, resulting in better target detection. Modern metal detectors are now equipped with DSP technology, making them more accurate and reliable than ever before.


Improvements in Sensitivity and Target Discrimination


Sensitivity and target discrimination are important features of metal detectors. Sensitivity refers to the detector's ability to detect small or low-conductivity targets, while target discrimination refers to the ability to distinguish between different types of metal. Recent improvements in sensitivity and target discrimination have resulted in metal detectors that are more accurate and can detect a wider range of targets.


Integration of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning


Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are revolutionizing various industries, and metal detection is no exception. AI and machine learning algorithms can be used to analyze data from metal detectors and identify patterns that may be missed by human operators. This can result in better target detection and improved accuracy.


In addition, modern detectors are much smaller, lighter and fully computerized with capabilities such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS locator. 


Future for Metal Detector


Grounded on the advanced technology of metal detectors evolving at a rapid pace, we will explore its many exciting possibilities, from its potential applications to the ethical considerations that come with its use.


Prospective Implications in Various Fields


Metal detectors are poised to have a significant impact on various fields in the future, with numerous potential applications.


In medicine: research has shown that metal nanoparticles can be used to detect and destroy cancer cells, offering a promising new approach to cancer treatment. It may help diagnose and treat conditions such as Alzheimer's disease by detecting the buildup of metal ions in the brain.


In the construction industry: metal detectors can prevent accidents by locating buried pipes and cables, ensuring that workers can safely excavate without damaging existing infrastructure.


In agriculture: metal detectors can help identify nutrient deficiencies in soil, allowing farmers to adjust their fertilization practices and increase crop yields.


In the security sector: future advancements may lead to more sophisticated metal detectors, capable of detecting threats in real-time and preventing acts of terrorism and violence.


Potential Ethical Considerations


As metal detectors become increasingly sophisticated and widespread,  their potential ethical problems should be considered. Here, we'll just provide a brief overview, and in our next blog, we'll dive deeper into the topic.


Impact on the environment: particularly in natural and protected areas, such as cultural heritage and archaeological sites. Metal detector use can damage delicate ecosystems, disrupt habitats of rare or endangered species, and harm cultural heritage sites.


Consider private property: we should respect private property rights by seeking permission from landowners before metal detecting on their property. A verbal agreement may be sufficient in some cases, but it's better to get permission in writing, especially if you plan to metal detect regularly on the same land.




Metal detectors have come a long way since their invention over a century ago. They have played a significant role in various industries, and their development and evolution over time have been nothing short of fascinating. Metal detectors will continue to play an essential role in various fields, and with the continuous advancements in technology, the future of metal detectors is bright.


With the number of players involved both professional and amatuer, as well as the rapid pace of technological advancement as a whole, the future of metal detectors is anyone’s guess. What can be almost guaranteed though is that metal detectors will continue to evolve and change in order to find even more treasure.


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