Metal detecting is a fascinating and multifaceted field that combines elements of history, technology, and exploration. From its humble beginnings in the early 20th century, to its present-day status as a popular hobby and essential tool in various industries, metal detecting has come a long way.

A Brief Overview

Metal detectors have been instrumental in unearthing significant archaeological finds, contributing to a deeper understanding of human history and cultural heritage. They also play a crucial role in security and law enforcement, helping to maintain safety at airports, public events, and other sensitive locations. 

In industries such as construction, mining, and environmental research, metal detecting aids in locating hidden infrastructure, detecting mineral deposits, and monitoring soil contamination. 

Metal detecting has also grown into a popular hobby, with enthusiasts worldwide enjoying the thrill of discovery and the potential for uncovering valuable treasures. Which is what brought me into this wonderful world.

Below we will delve into the history of metal detecting, examining the inventors and early devices that laid the groundwork for the modern metal detectors we enjoy today. We will also review the advancements in technology and the contributions of notable companies that have shaped the industry. 

Predecessors to Modern Metal Detectors

Early uses of magnetism and electromagnetism for detecting metal

Long before the invention of modern metal detectors, humans had been intrigued by the properties of magnetism and its potential applications. Ancient civilizations, such as the Chinese and Greeks, were aware of naturally occurring magnets like lodestones and experimented with their use for various purposes. 

In the 16th century, English scientist William Gilbert conducted pioneering research on magnetism, laying the foundation for future developments in this field.

The early 19th century saw the discovery of electromagnetism, a crucial milestone that would ultimately lead to the creation of metal detectors. Danish scientist Hans Christian Ørsted first observed the relationship between electricity and magnetism in 1820, and his findings inspired other researchers, such as André-Marie Ampère and Michael Faraday, to further explore this phenomenon. 

These early investigations into electromagnetism set the stage for inventors to devise methods for detecting and identifying metals using these principles.

The invention of the telephone and its influence on metal detector development

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Interestingly, the technology behind the telephone also played a significant role in the development of metal detectors. 

Bell’s telephone employed an electromagnet and a diaphragm to convert sound waves into electrical signals and vice versa. This concept of converting one form of energy into another through electromagnetic principles was essential in the creation of metal detection devices.

Bell himself experimented with an early form of metal detection, known as the induction balance, to locate a bullet lodged in President James A. Garfield’s body after an assassination attempt in 1881. 

Although Bell’s device was not successful in this particular instance, the basic principles behind the induction balance would go on to become a fundamental component of metal detecting technology. The invention of the telephone and Bell’s subsequent work on the induction balance marked a significant turning point in the history of metal detecting, paving the way for future inventors to build upon these foundational concepts.

Invention and early inventors

Gerhard Fisher and the invention of the metal detector

The first modern metal detector was invented by Dr. Gerhard Fisher, an American engineer and physicist, in the early 1930s. Fisher was working on a project involving radio navigation when he noticed that the presence of metal objects could cause errors in the measurements taken by his equipment. Recognizing the potential for this phenomenon to be harnessed for detecting metals, Fisher set to work on developing a device specifically for this purpose.

In 1931, Fisher was granted a patent for his metal detector, which he named the “Metallascope” or “M-Scope.” The device operated using two coils of wire, one for transmitting an alternating current and the other for receiving it. When a metal object was nearby, it would disturb the magnetic field generated by the transmitter coil, causing a change in the current received by the receiver coil. 

This change in current would then be translated into an audible signal, indicating the presence of metal. Fisher’s invention marked the beginning of modern metal detecting and laid the groundwork for subsequent technological advancements in the field.

Other early inventors and researchers

In addition to Gerhard Fisher and Alexander Graham Bell, several other inventors and researchers contributed to the development of metal-detecting technology. For instance, in the late 19th century, French electrical engineer Gustave Trouvé created a handheld device that used a single coil to detect metal objects in patients’ bodies. Trouvé’s invention, while not as refined as Fisher’s, demonstrated the potential for handheld metal detectors in medical applications.

Another notable figure in the early history of metal detecting is Polish inventor Józef Kosacki, who developed a portable mine detector during World War II. Kosacki’s device, known as the “Polish Mine Detector,” used a simple beat frequency oscillator (BFO) circuit to locate metal objects. The success of the Polish Mine Detector in clearing minefields during the war spurred further innovation in metal detecting technology, paving the way for the diverse range of devices available today.

Notable companies and contributions

Throughout the history of metal detecting, numerous companies have played a crucial role in the development and popularization of the technology. Their contributions to the field have helped shape the industry, providing innovative products and solutions for hobbyists, professionals, and various industries. Some of the most notable companies in the metal detecting world include:

Tesoro Electronics

Founded in 1980 by Jack Gifford, an engineer with a passion for metal detecting, Tesoro Electronics was a prominent player in the industry for over four decades. The company was known for producing high-quality metal detectors that are both reliable and affordable.

Tesoro’s detectors were particularly popular among hobbyists due to their ease of use and excellent performance. The company was at the forefront of several innovations, such as the development of microprocessor-controlled detectors and advanced discrimination features. Sadly, due to supply chain and cost struggles Tesoro closed in the late 2010s.

White’s Electronics

White’s Electronics, founded in 1950 by Kenneth White, was another key player in the metal detecting industry. With a long history of producing high-quality detectors for various applications, White’s Electronics has been at the forefront of technological advancements in the field.

The company introduced the first completely automatic ground balancing detector, which greatly improved the detection capabilities in mineralized soil conditions. White’s Electronics has also been involved in the development of advanced VLF and PI detectors, as well as devices for specific applications such as underwater and gold prospecting.

White’s Metal Detectors was acquired by Garret Metal Detectors in October of 2020.

Garrett Metal Detectors

Established in 1964 by Charles and Eleanor Garrett, Garrett Metal Detectors has become one of the most recognizable names in the metal detecting industry. The company has a reputation for producing reliable, high-performance detectors that cater to both hobbyists and professionals. 

Garrett Metal Detectors has been responsible for several innovations in the field, including the introduction of the first computerized metal detector with digital signal processing and the development of advanced ground balancing systems.


Founded in 1985, Minelab is an Australian company that has quickly become a leader in the metal detecting industry. Minelab is known for its cutting-edge technology and innovative product designs, which have made significant contributions to the field. 

The company’s flagship technology, Multi-IQ, allows its detectors to operate at multiple frequencies simultaneously, greatly enhancing detection capabilities and target identification. Minelab has also been a pioneer in the development of detectors specifically designed for gold prospecting, as well as devices for use in humanitarian demining efforts.

Fisher Research Labs

Fisher Research Labs, founded by Gerhard Fisher, the inventor of the first modern metal detector, has a long and storied history in the industry. Since its inception in 1931, the company has been committed to innovation and excellence, producing a wide range of detectors for various applications. 

Fisher’s detectors have been used in numerous high-profile archaeological discoveries and treasure hunts, solidifying the company’s reputation as a leader in the field. Fisher Research Labs has also been involved in the development of advanced detection technologies, such as pulse induction and ground penetrating radar.

These companies, among others, have played a significant role in shaping the metal detecting industry over the years. Through their innovations and dedication to quality, they have helped push the boundaries of metal detecting technology, making it more accessible and effective for users around the world.

Technological advancements in metal detecting accessories

As the metal detecting industry has evolved, so too have the accessories and tools that accompany the hobby. These advancements have not only improved the overall metal detecting experience but also allowed enthusiasts to overcome various challenges and achieve greater success in their pursuits. Some key technological advancements in metal detecting accessories include:

Search coils

Modern search coils have come a long way since the early days of metal detecting. Today’s coils are available in various shapes and sizes, each designed to optimize detection capabilities for specific environments or targets. Some common types of search coils include:

  1. Concentric coils – These coils consist of two or more round, nested windings that emit a conical search field. They offer good discrimination and are suitable for general-purpose detecting.
  2. Double-D coils – Featuring two overlapping D-shaped windings, these coils generate a blade-shaped search field that provides better ground coverage, improved depth, and more accurate target identification in mineralized soils.
  3. Monoloop coils – Often used in pulse induction detectors, monoloop coils consist of a single winding that serves as both the transmitter and receiver. They are particularly effective for detecting deep targets and are popular among gold prospectors.


Headphones designed specifically for metal detecting have also seen significant improvements. Modern detecting headphones often include features such as noise cancellation, adjustable volume controls, and wireless connectivity. High-quality headphones can help detectorists hear faint signals more clearly, enhancing their ability to locate deep or small targets.


Pinpointers, or handheld metal detectors, have become an essential accessory for many detectorists. These compact devices help users zero in on the precise location of a target, making the recovery process quicker and more efficient. Modern pinpointers often include features such as adjustable sensitivity, vibration or audio feedback, and waterproof construction.

Digging tools

Advancements in digging tools have made it easier for detectorists to recover targets while minimizing the impact on the environment. Ergonomically designed shovels, trowels, and sand scoops allow for more precise digging and reduce the likelihood of damaging valuable finds. Additionally, some digging tools now incorporate built-in magnets, ruler markings, or serrated edges for added convenience.

Smartphone apps and GPS technology

The integration of smartphone apps and GPS technology has opened up new possibilities for metal detecting enthusiasts. Detectorists can now use apps to log their finds, track their detecting locations, and even access databases of known historical sites. Some metal detectors also include built-in GPS functionality, allowing users to save and revisit productive search areas.

These advancements in metal detecting accessories have not only enhanced the overall experience but also allowed detectorists to become more efficient and effective in their pursuits. As technology continues to evolve, it is likely that we will see further innovations that will continue to shape and improve the metal detecting experience.

Metal detecting communities and culture

As metal detecting has grown in popularity, a vibrant and diverse community of enthusiasts has emerged. This community encompasses hobbyists, professionals, and collectors, each with their own unique perspectives and interests. 

Through clubs, online forums, and social media, these individuals connect, share their experiences, and support one another in their pursuit of hidden treasures.

The growth of metal detecting as a hobby

The appeal of metal detecting lies in its combination of outdoor exploration, historical discovery, and the thrill of unearthing hidden treasures. Over the years, the hobby has attracted a wide range of individuals, from history buffs and archaeology enthusiasts to those who simply enjoy the physical and mental challenges that metal detecting presents. Advancements in metal detector technology, as well as the increasing availability of affordable detectors, have also contributed to the growth of the hobby.

Metal detecting clubs and organizations

Metal detecting clubs provide a valuable resource for enthusiasts to learn from one another, share experiences, and participate in group activities such as organized hunts and competitions. Clubs often host regular meetings, workshops, and presentations, allowing members to expand their knowledge and improve their skills. Many clubs also promote ethical metal detecting practices and work to foster positive relationships with landowners, archaeologists, and local authorities.

Some well-known metal detecting clubs and organizations include:

  1. Federation of Metal Detector and Archaeological Clubs (FMDAC) – A US-based organization that represents the interests of metal detecting clubs and their members, promoting education, responsible detecting, and cooperation with archaeologists.
  2. National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD) – A UK-based organization that represents the interests of individual detectorists and clubs, advocating for responsible metal detecting and liaising with government bodies and other stakeholders.

By participating in clubs, online communities, and other shared spaces, metal detecting enthusiasts continue to foster a strong sense of community and contribute to the rich culture of the hobby.

The 21st century and beyond

As the metal detecting industry continues to evolve, we can expect to see further advancements and innovations that will shape the future of the hobby and its applications in various industries.

Future outlook and potential innovations

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

The incorporation of AI and machine learning technologies in metal detectors will allow for more accurate target identification, improved discrimination, and adaptive ground balancing, making the detecting experience more efficient and user-friendly.

Robotics and automation

The integration of robotics and automation in metal detecting may lead to the development of autonomous or semi-autonomous devices capable of carrying out large-scale surveys or detecting in difficult-to-reach areas, such as underwater or underground locations.

Miniaturization and portability

As technology advances, we can expect to see metal detectors become smaller, lighter, and more portable, making them more accessible and convenient for users of all skill levels and physical abilities.

Sustainable and energy-efficient designs

The development of sustainable and energy-efficient metal detectors will help to reduce the environmental impact of the devices and extend their battery life, allowing users to detect for longer periods without recharging or replacing batteries.

As the metal detecting industry continues to evolve and innovate, we can expect the future of the hobby and its applications to be characterized by increased efficiency, accuracy, and versatility, opening up new possibilities for enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Final Thoughts on the History of Metal Detecting

Throughout the history of metal detecting, the field has seen significant advancements and innovations that have contributed to its growth and popularity. From its early beginnings as a tool for locating buried minerals and military applications, metal detecting has evolved into a multifaceted hobby and profession, serving a variety of purposes in industries such as archaeology, security, and environmental research. 

Technological advancements in detection depth, discrimination, ground balancing, and wireless connectivity have made metal detectors more efficient and user-friendly, while the integration of GPS and mapping systems has added an additional layer of utility.

As a result, the metal detecting community has flourished, with clubs, online forums, social media, YouTube Channels, and TV shows providing valuable resources and opportunities for enthusiasts to connect, learn, and share their experiences.