Ruby Laser

Lasers have served as teaching tools in more ways than one. This ruby laser, made by General Electric (GE), inspired teenager Ebe Helm from New Jersey to learn more about lasers.
Mr. Helm wrote: "this laser head was originally on display in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia as part of an electromagnetic spectrum exhibit from GE. It was a working unit that would fire downward on a spool of typewriter ribbon when a button was pushed. The hole it burned could be observed from several angles around its display and through large magnifying lenses arranged over it. ... I first saw this laser on display during a class trip in 1972. The laser had been on display for some years, possibly since the 1960's, and was not working. After it had been removed to a basement store room I managed to talk the Franklin Institute into giving it to me in 1976. I used the components to make an operational ruby laser in 1977 at age 17."
Mr. Helm donated this laser, and several others, to the Smithsonian in 2005.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
General Electric Company
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
plastic (part material)
overall: 13 cm x 13 cm x 53 cm; 5 1/8 in x 5 1/8 in x 20 7/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Energy & Power
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
from Ebe Helm
Additional Media

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