Head Piece from Maiman Laser

This object may be the first laser. It was made by Theodore Maiman and his assistant Irnee D'Haenens at Hughes Aircraft Company in May 1960.
In 1959 Maiman attended a technical conference on the subject of lasers. Maiman heard several speakers state that ruby was unsuitable for a laser but grew troubled by some of the numbers they cited. When he returned to his lab at Hughes he began experimenting. By May 1960 he and D'Haenens constructed several small metal cylinders. Each contained a photographer's spiral-shaped, xenon flashlamp that surrounded a small cylindrical crystal of synthetic ruby. When they fired the flashlamp, the burst of light stimulated the ruby crystal to emit a tightly focused pulse of light--the first operating laser.
Hughes Aircraft donated this and several other pieces of Maiman's apparatus to the Smithsonian in 1970. The crystal mounted inside is from a 1961 experiment. While the donation records indicate that this is the first laser, Maiman wrote that he received the first laser as a gift when he left the company in April 1961. Several experimental models were made during the research, a common practice. So we may never know which unit actually generated the first laser light.
Currently not on view
Object Name
laser head
laser apparatus
Date made
associated date
Maiman, Theodore H.
Hughes Aircraft Company
Physical Description
plastic (plate material)
metal (housing material)
ruby (crystal material)
overall: 4 1/2 in x 2 in; 11.43 cm x 5.08 cm
Place Made
United States: California, Malibu
ID Number
accession number
catalog 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 Hughes Aircraft Company, thru Dr. George F. Smith
Additional Media

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