A Gun “Laser” Sight before Laser Were Invented

The March, 1932 issue of Modern Mechanix described a nighttime gun sight that worked by throwing a very focused beam of light at the target. It was operated just like todays laser gun sights.

From Modern Mechanix

A GUN sight for night firing, which may be attached to any revolver or pistol, has recently been patented and will soon be marketed by Ray Helm of Chicago, Ill.

The device, which has been especially designed for night police duty, consists of six small powerful condensers, an electric bulb, a special reflector, and a switch to make contact with small batteries.

When the gun is aimed and the switch pressed by the thumb of the gun hand the light indicates where the bullet will strike. The light carries for 250 feet and reflects on the target a light round spot about the size of a baseball at the point where the bullet will hit.

The sight is accurate up to its full range on large calibre arms, as the point blank range, for which no allowance need be made for gravity, is usually about this distance. On smaller arms it would be necessary to aim the light a few inches above the point for which the bullet is intended.

I was not able to locate the patent for this device. I believe this sight was one of the many snake-oil gun-related inventions published by Modern Mechanix. Even today, with our lithium batteries, high-performance LED lamps and relatively cheap high-quality optics, a device as small as the one pictured in the illustration above would be hard to construct.

[ Many thanks to Sven (Defence and Freedom) for emailing me the the info. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • TrojanMan

    At least they knew what “point blank range” meant.
    So, that’s worth something.

  • Rusgunnut1

    This reminds me of the book “Immediate Action”, by Andy Mcnab. Apparently, when on anti-drug training missions in south america, they (sas) would run rifles with a large maglite mounted on top, in place of an optic. Apparently, they were so set that the centre of the beam was where the bullet would hit.

  • Cymond

    The Popular Mechanics version may have been snake-oil, but it reminds me of something I found online: http://collectorebooks.com/jamesauction/luger/36120.htm Apparently, the Nazis had a Luger with under-barrel flashlight and a brass contact switch integrated into the grips. It doesn’t seem that the light was anything like in Popular Mechanics, but it only takes a parabolic reflector or a single lens to create a reasonably focused beam.

  • Lance

    Good idea for training.

  • Matt G.

    Snake oil? I’d say yes since they use the word “condenser” to describe an electrical part. There is no such thing.

    The half of your air conditioner that sits outside the house is called a condenser, but I doubt they ever put one in a flashlight.

    • Tinkerer

      Back in the days, what we now call “capacitor” was called “condenser”.

      • Matt G.

        Were they really? You learn something new every day.

        I can see why the name didn’t stick since it capacitors don’t condense anything.

      • Bryan S.

        Not even so far back, you can still buy points and condensor parts and systems for motorcycle ignitions.

  • D

    The Zodiac Killer mentioned taping a pen-light to the barrel of his gun, and using the “black circle” in the center as an aiming device, around 1969.

    Also, evidently Alfred Hitchcock presents had a episode in 1961 that had the same basic gimmick (using a pen light as a crude aiming device). I turned that up in verifying the zodiac thing.

    The big advantage here would probably not be that it did anything for accuracy, but that it’d let you fire from the hip, and let you look (in the dark) like you were holding a flashlight instead of a gun. Plus, of course, you’d have a flashlight in hand if whoever it was ran away.