When Were Laser Beams Invented

LASER, meaning light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, first appeared in a scientific paper in 1958. With that publication, the laser became a new form of high technology used for applications ranging from reading and scanning disks, to precise surgical instruments. Scientists are still finding more applications for laser technology.

Charles Townes

Charles Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1915. He received a B.A and a B.S. from Furman University and then a master’s from Duke University. When he received his Ph.D. in physics, he joined Bell Labs in 1939.

Arthur Schawlow

Arthur Schawlow was born in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1921. He received his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Toronto and joined Bell Labs in 1951.


The precursor to the laser was the maser, a device that used microwave wavelengths. However, the maser was limited to how much it could output. Townes started the maser concept and with Nikolai Basov and Alexander Prokhorov, shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics.


In 1958, Schawlow, a Bell Labs researcher, and Townes, a Bell Labs consultant, published Infrared and Optical Masers in Physical Review. This publication was a journal of the American Physical Society.


Both Townes and Schawlow received the patent for the laser in 1960 after Theodore Maiman at the Hughes Aircraft Co. helped create it using a ruby at 0.69 microns.