National Radiation 
   Instrument Catalog











National Radiation Instrument Catalog


The development of the National Radiation Instrument Catalog 2007 (NRIC 2007) began in October 2001. The goal of the project is to categorize every portable nuclear radiation instrument developed during the period from 1920 to 1960. Early attempts to catalog radiation instrumentation began in the late 1940's by the Atomic Energy Commission but was discontinued in the early 1950's. In that spirit, this catalog was envisioned and pursued. Currently, the catalog archive contains over 150 individual companies, government laboratories, universities and military organizations that developed portable nuclear radiation instruments. This historical archive contains entries from over 460 different makes and models from these organizations which are described with detailed descriptions and over 1500 images. To provide supporting historical context of the era, over 300 historical advertisements and instrumentation catalogs are provided as well as over 100 photographs of individuals using radiation detection instruments. 

During this four decade period, the evolution of modern portable radiation instruments had its origin and underwent the most innovative and challenging instrument design changes, culminating in a story to be told through this catalog. From lost radium sources located by the Radium Hound in the 1920's to the first modern Victoreen instruments in the 1930's to the Manhattan Project and WWII in the 1940's to the Uranium Rush in the 1950's, it all contributes to a fascinating period forging the modern nuclear detection era. The catalog will be updated periodically with new historical information as it becomes available.   


The historical page provides a brief description of the significant highlights that were instrumental in transforming portable radiation detection instrumentation throughout the four decade period. Some of the earliest radiation measuring instruments had their origins in the 1920's for use in monitoring dose rates from x-ray generating devices and radium needles, both of which were used in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. The late 1920's are highlighted by the early inventions of John Victoreen, undoubtedly the father of early commercial portable radiation instrumentation. Victoreen engineered some of the early radiation instruments that would eventually lay the foreground for the development of the modern nuclear detection industry. Dr. Taft introduced the Radium Hound in the early 1930's as a specialized ionization instrument for searching for lost radium sources used in medical treatments. His fascinating adventures in searching for lost radium sources made him a national celebrity culminating in his 1935 book title "Radium - Lost and Found".  The 1940's entered the period of World War II and the new requirements from the army and navy for portable radiological instruments for Operation Peppermint. Operation Peppermint was the code name for the response to intelligence that the Germans might lace the beaches with radioactive materials to deter the advancing forces in the Normandy Invasion. The early 1940's was also the beginning of the Manhattan Project, a massive undertaking by the U.S. Government to develop the first atomic weapon. Monitoring instruments for the increasingly higher exposure rates encountered in the plutonium production reactors were required for worker safety. Worker safety concerns during the Manhattan Project evolved into the present day discipline of Health Physics. All aspects of radiation monitoring were required during the Manhattan Project from alpha/beta contamination, air contamination, high gamma-ray doses and monitoring of fast and slow neutrons.  The Trinity Shot in July 1945, the first detonation of an atomic device at an isolated area in southwest New Mexico, required not only fixed monitoring instruments but portable detection instruments for post-detonation recovery operations.  The mid-1940's ushered in the era of atomic weapons testing in a series of atmospheric tests conducted in the South Pacific called Operation Crossroads. And lastly, in the late 1940's and throughout the 1950's, the onset and decade of the Uranium Rush, a major national effort to locate uranium ore deposits to support the growing national needs for atomic energy and nuclear weapons.

Recently added is a section on photographs of radiation detection instruments in use for uranium prospecting and other activities and a series of advertisements for radiation detection instruments collected from journals, magazines and other print media. These images were added to better portray the activities of the various periods and how the instruments were used throughout the industry.   


The catalog page provides a series of menus to access the information collected to date on each portable radiation instrument developed by a laboratory, university or commercial manufacturer during the four decade period. The categories are divided into radiation instrument companies, radiation instrument distributors, Atomic Energy Commission laboratories or universities, Geiger counter kits and novelties, and military organizations. The radiation instrument companies range from small companies that produced only one detector to the very large companies such as Victoreen with numerous detectors. The radiation instrument distributors include well know retail companies such as Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards. The Atomic Energy Commission laboratories include Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Clinton Engineer Works (now Oak Ridge National Laboratory), and Argonne National Laboratory to name a few. The universities that participated in the Manhattan Project include the University of Chicago, Columbia University and University of Rochester. The Geiger Counter Kits, Toys and Novelties menu contains companies that produced Geiger counter kits for assembly, popular action toys and games, and some unusual Geiger counter novelties, all which contribute to the historical memorabilia of this period.

For each of the contributors identified, the goal is to include some historical information about the pioneering founders, the institution's origin and transformations. For each portable radiation detection instrument in the catalog, every attempt has been made to identify and document all available information to include:


    1) model

    2) version number

    3) photographs

    4) original manufacture date

    5) specifications

    6) product catalogs

    7) advertisements

Presented in the catalog are the best available photographs or images that have been obtained (since many of the very early instruments may no longer exist). As such, the quality of some of the early images is quite poor and every attempt has been made to preserve the image as it existed in the original document. These images become part of this historical record. As better images are identified, they will be incorporated into this catalog. It is important also to attempt to accurately date the initial availability of the instrument and how long it was manufactured. Specification information can include the physical dimensions, weight, type of detector, color, materials used, batteries, original cost, application and detection range. If an image has not been located, it is so indicated.

When appropriate, I have included vintage advertisements or articles to provide a better perspective of the times. These images provide a unique historical snapshot in time of the period when the radiation instrument was most popular. The marketing approaches range from a few text lines and a picture of the instrument to some very elaborate full page advertisements. 


The information contained in the catalog has been collected from numerous resources throughout the United States and every attempt has been made to acknowledge and reference all of the contributors. Over 1100 references have been reviewed for historical information for this project. Provided in the reference section are the citations to over 850 individual references that contain historical information on portable radiation detection instruments that have been incorporated into this project. Reference material includes scientific and technical books, journal articles, popular magazine articles, vendor product brochures and advertisements, Atomic Energy Commission reports, national laboratory reports, government reports, newspapers, instrument operating and instruction manuals, Department of Energy technical reports and military reports. These references, most of which have been collected for this project, were obtained from university and national laboratory libraries, state and federal museums, internet sites, government public reading rooms, and government archives.