Back to Basics: Where Did the Video Security System Come From?

Last week we discussed the history of the burglar alarm. Following suit, this week we are sharing the history of the video surveillance system.


Pictured: Holloway Prison Suffragettes

1913: The exact date of the first known use of security cameras is vague, however, historians pinpoint photos taken at the Holloway Prison in 1913 as the first time “modern photographic surveillance” was used. The guards took “photographs covertly, from far away, and without the inmates’ knowledge or consent”. The reason for this was “a certain group of inmates (18 political activists who’d been imprisoned for the “violence” of their tactics) refused to have their pictures taken by prison authorities. Every time they saw someone trying to take photographs of them, these surveillance camera players would do something — hide their faces, make “funny” faces, refuse to keep still — to ruin the final product, to make it useless in identifying them. These extremists were called suffragettes.”


Pictured: Walter Bruch

1942: As the years progressed, the next report of using surveillance cameras was for military purposes. Engineer Walter Bruch installed a closed-circuit television system for Siemens in 1942 at the Test Stand VII rocket launch site in Peenemunde, Germany to safely monitor any cause of malfunction or problems from the rocket launches. Click image below to view rare footage from their test launches.

1956: Hamburg, Germany: Conducted a trial operation of a street camera system demonstrated by police officers on the “Zauberspiegel”, or magic mirror.

1959: Hannover, Germany: Started using CCTV for temporary monitoring of the increased inner city traffic coming in for the annual industrial trade fair.

1960: The police in Frankfurt/Main put into service the first “photographic and automatic red light-surveillance”, in order to investigate violations of traffic regulations. In addition to traffic control, the observation of rallies and public gatherings was the second task delegated to these camera eyes.

Although the Germans were the first to use a closed-circuit television system, the United Kingdom pioneered the video surveillance industry by starting to experiment with permanent cameras in public places to monitor safety.


Pictured: Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh greet the Thai Royal Family.

July 1960:Metropolitan Police use two temporary cameras in Trafalgar Square to monitor crowds attracted to the arrival of the Thai Royal Family.

November 5, 1960
: Metropolitan Police use two temporary cameras in Trafalgar Square to monitor “Guy Fawkes Day” activity.

1961: Video surveillance system is installed at a London Transport train station.

1964: Liverpool police experiment with four covert CCTV cameras in the city’s center.

1965: British Railways installs cameras to watch tracks near Dagenham that had been vandalized.

1967: The UK company, Photo-Scan, markets a video surveillance system to retailers to catch shoplifters.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S….


Pictured: 100 Block N. Union Street, Olean, New York

Sept. 1968: Olean, New York: Michael Arnold, owner of the Allband Cablevision Co., sat in at the Olean Exchange Club meeting where an Oleans SEARS store manager “complained the company had ordered him to buy a guard dog for the store that he would have to care for” because the SEARS store had been broken into, and “company officials in Chicago didn’t want to be ripped off again.”

Instead of the guard dog, Arnold suggested putting cameras on utility poles downtown as a deterrent to crime, and the idea was a big hit with the other business owners. It took more than 1.4 million 1968 dollars, and over two years, to design, install and run the 8 camera system, but it put Olean, New York on the map as the first U.S. city to install video cameras along their main street of business, in an effort to monitor crime.

The closed-circuit cameras fed images into the Olean Police Department, 24 hours a day. The cameras had the ability to pan left and right on a timer, essentially overlapping coverage of the street, and they did indeed deter crime. News spread about this new surveillance system. “Within a year of the cameras being installed on North Union Street, more than 160 police chiefs from around the country visited Olean to inspect the system.”

Pictured: Marie Van Brittan Brown

December 2, 1969: Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert Brown, are granted patent number 3,482,037 for the home security system utilizing television surveillance. Their system had 4 peep holes and a camera that could slide up and down to look out each one. Anything the camera picked up was displayed on a monitor, and also featured a remote for unlocking the door.

1969: Police cameras were installed in the New York City Municipal Building near City Hall.

1973: “NYPD in Times Square installed four cameras in response to complaints of muggings and harassment by prostitutes only to pull them two years later as a failure that was described by The New York Times “as one of the longest-running flops along the Great White Way.”” Only 10 arrests were made, and for trivial reasons.

1974: Installation of video surveillance systems to monitor traffic on the major arterial roads in and through London.


1975: Installation of video surveillance system in four London Underground train stations.

By the late 70s, VHS tapes were introduced to the U.S. market, changing the surveillance industry. People no longer had to constantly monitor their CCTV system, and could now record onto VHS tapes. This also introduced the concept of being able to preserve surveillance footage to be used as evidence. The surveillance industry grew in popularity in the 70s and 80s with businesses that were prone to theft, such as banks, retail stores, and gas stations. Although, tapes produced grainy black and white images, which made facial recognition impossible. Tapes were often reused and footage would be taped over.

In the late 80s, cameras started to have Charged Coupled Device (CCD), which used microchip computer technology. “These new cameras broadened the practical applications of video surveillance by allowing low light and made night recording possible.”

With the early 90s, came Digital Multiplexing. “When digital multiplexer units became affordable it revolutionized the surveillance industry by enabling recording on several cameras at once (more than a dozen at time in most cases). Digital multiplex also added features like time-lapse and motion-only recording, which saved a great deal of wasted videotape.”


Pictured: 1993 World Trade Center Attack
February 26, 1993: First attack on the World Trade Center, creating a frenzy of increased security.

July 1994: Use of covert video surveillance systems at automatic teller machines (ATMs) begins.

Throughout the 90s, the security industry spread, with more and more cameras being installed in public places. “From 1997 on, police departments across the country installed more and more video surveillance cameras in public buildings, housing projects and areas like New York’s Washington Square Park.”

To Be Continued…
Tune in next week to read about how the attack on 9/11 forever changed the nation’s view on the surveillance industry, and all the advancements in the past decade.