World’s First Button Camera, 1950’s From The Spy And Private-Eye Museum

Believe it or not, the very first covert button cameras where used by intelligence agencies in the 1950’s. However, they could only do a still photo snap shot and were so bulky, you could only wear them with a heavy coat. Today’s modern day button cameras with portable pocket digital video recorders is a far cry from what top investigators and intelligence agents could use in the 1950’s. But if you had one of these in the 1950’s you were high tech and very cutting edge. They were custom developed by the CIA the KGB as well as British Intelligence. (This one was likely made by the CIA) If you were a private investigator and had one, you were very rare! Even if you could afford one which might set you back the average of what was then several month’s pay, finding one was quite another matter. The button hides a lens which screws onto a subminiature camera. There was a thick cord that ran into a pocket. You simply placed your hand in your coat pocket and pulled the lever which then took a still photo. They were just too bulky to use without a coat. However, in the 1960’s the CIA developed one that worked in a belt buckle. (Today, there is a belt buckle video camera/DVR built into one small unit as well as one built into a watch, a pen and eyeglasses.) Video surveillance button cameras were simply not on the market nor made in this time period as the technology to do that was just not there. There were hundreds of these still cameras used mainly by federal intelligence agents such as CIA and KGB agents. The camera itself, which was very very small for it’s time period, took 16 mm subminiature film. No one knows exactly how many of these button cameras where made but they are very rare today. It’s taken us five years to locate this one. When in Austin, Texas be sure to come by and see the Spy And Private-Eye Museum in person! 

Used by intelligence agencies during the cold war in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the world’s first button camera could only take still shots and was so bulky, it could only be used with a heavy coat. The actual button was a plate that screwed onto the camera lens of a small subminiature camera. The button camera plate had a cord that ran into the agent’s pocket. Using this method, when an agent wanted to take a still photo, he simply placed his hand in the pocket and pushed the lever.The center part of the button would quickly slide away to expose the camera lens and the shutter would open. Since the exposure was done on small subminiature 16 MM film, one had to develop the film before one could see the results of the efforts. Most agents had their own film developing kits. The coat used had to have the button camera installed on it with matching buttons as well as a hole torn inside the coat pocket so the camera lever could be installed. No one knows for sure exactly how many of these were around but it’s rather rare to find one today. They were custom made by intelligence agencies such as the CIA. Crude by today’s standards, these were highly rare, custom made and state-of-the-art in the 1950s. Quite different from the equipment in use today by investigators, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Click Here For More Photos, A Video And Displays On The Button Camera from the online museum of The Spy And Private-Eye Displays. Come by and see it in person with hundreds of other museum items inside The Spy Exchange And Security Center

About securityteknews
Ralph Thomas is author of over 32 books on various aspects of conducting investigations, founder and director of The National Association Of Investigative Specialists,CEO of Thomas Investigative Publications, Inc, The Spy Exchange And Security Center and SpyTek Wholesale Imports. Thomas is a member of the Executive Security Council of Griffith Colson Intelligence Service, a private intelligence agency. Thomas's latest project is NAIStv on the Griffith Media TV Network. He has also developed A Native American Store in Georgetown Texas called Tribal Impressions. You can review his person home page off of:

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