Laser sights, circa 1915
by Kirk Lawson
LASER stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." The first laser was built in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman, not in 1915. The first commercial laser sight was produced by Laser Products Corporation in 1979. Called the LPC Model 7, it came bundled with a .357 Magnum Colt Trooper. A massive flashlight sized thing, apparently over 7" long, the HeNe laser required an independent 12 volt rechargeable battery housed below the custom grip.
It projected a laser "spot" down range which, if properly adjusted, would be the Point of Impact for the bullets fired. However, the search for such a device which could project a spot for the point of impact is hardly new. Here we introduce the innovative Wespi Searchlight Sight as referenced in Pistol and Revolver Shooting, Abraham Lincoln Artman Himmelwright, Macmillan Company, New York, 1915.
For years means have been sought to make successful shooting at night possible. White and phosphorescent paints have been applied to the sights and to the top of the barrel but all such methods have proved more or less unsatisfactory even in dim light and in total darkness the target or other object cannot be seen. A recently invented device that overcomes all these difficulties and makes shooting at night practical is the "Wespi" searchlight sight.*
This sight is a tube about 6 inches long and 3/4 inches in diameter containing a miniature electric searchlight which projects a dark spot in the center of the illuminated field. When properly mounted on the piece the black spot indicates where the bullet will strike. This sight can be readily attached to any pistol or revolver. As offered on the market at the present time it is adapted for short range work up to, say, 60 feet. The illustrations show a section through the sight tube, and the sight attached to a revolver. The weight is six ounces. (See 61 and 62 facing p. 64.)
This sight embodies the principles of the telescopic sight and can undoubtedly be modified to increase its illuminating power and adapted so as to project well-defined dark lines similar to cross wires, on a target; or the dark spot decreased in size to about 3 or 4 inches in diameter at 60 feet. So modified this would be a practical sight for target shooting and would be a boon to many of the older marksmen whose sight is failing and who find it more and more difficult to shoot in artificial light with the ordinary sights.
Such a sight would also possess many advantages for beginners as the moving spot on the target would indicate the unsteadiness of the holding and impress upon the marksman the importance of holding the spot in the right position at the instant of discharge. A further improvement would be to substitute for the dark spot, a spot of intensely bright light. This would be equally as effective as the dark spot and would greatly increase the range at which the sight could be used, adapting it to game shooting at night. It is hoped that the manufacturers will develop a sight as suggested for target and game shooting.
*Sold by American Specialty Co., 198 Fifth Avenue, New York City.
It bears a remarkable outward resemblance to the LPC Model 7.
[An LPC Model 7 on a a .357 Magnum Colt Trooper. - Just How Large Was The First Laser Sight?]
The Wespi Searchlight Sight apparently used a traditional filament powered incandescent light-bulb, essentially the only viable technology at the time, the mean-time to failure could not have been particularly long. The filaments of these "Edison style bulbs" are notoriously fragile and unlikely to survive very many shots due to the recoil. Nevertheless, the concept is sound and the idea was very forward looking for the time.
Perhaps an enterprising Do-It-Yourselfer might recreate a copy of this sight using both historic technologies from the mid-1900's and, perhaps, more durable and compact technologies of today.