First Button Camera, 1950's
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
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,
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!
Above is the inside
of the button cover lens. It screws onto the subminiature camera lens.
Notice the back side of the center of the button and the strings coming
in. When the hidden lever was pushed in, the strings would quickly pull
down the doors on the center of the button and a snapshot taken at the
Once screwed on,
you can see from the back that the button mount was like a plate that
fit over the front of the camera. The cord provided the lever that went
into the pocket to take the covert snap shot. A trench coat had to be
modified with buttons and holes in the back to bring the cord into the
trench coat pocket.
|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.
And Watch A Short Video!
Listen to and watch a short video with Ralph Thomas And Gene Poteant,
retired CIA agent; talk about covert cameras of the 1950's. This film
clip was originally made for the TNT program, The Company. The part
about the first button cameras is after the first part which displays
and describes the first cigarette lighter cameras. Apple Quicktime
Player needed to view film clip.
The subminiature Camera And The Button Plate Mount.
The Button Plate
Mount From Both Sides. The second lever let you adjust the aperture of
the camera itself.
Of The Pocket Lever
The pocket lever was
simply that. A hidden lever that went into one's pocket. The cord
was concealed under one's coat that went directly to the button
camera. Notice the long lever on the plate. This would adjust the
aperture setting for the camera lens. The outer lever is the lever
that would take the snap shot. When it was pressed in, two small
doors would slide open within the inner circle part of the button
and the camera would take the snap shot. This was quite a high tech
camera concealment method in it's time period. If you look closely
at the photos above showing the inside of the cover plate, you can
see the strings coming out into the underside of the button camera
that actually made all this work. It was like a pulley. There isn't
any doubt they needed constant adjustment of the tension on the
Animation Of The Button Camera In Action
To the right is a close-up
of the button camera in action. The button camera plate attaches
to the camera which is photographed elsewhere. With the lever hidden
in one's pocket, you simple push down on the lever and the door
opens inside the button and the camera shutter opens to take a snap
shot. ONce the snap shot is taken, the button doors close again
leaving everything just as it was. Upon extremely close inspection
from the outside of a coat, the only thing one might be able to
see is the faint line running through the middle of the button.
Agents were very picky to make sure the coat matched the button
camera along with all the buttons and the treads running through
the middle of the button. Remember, it they got caught, especially
in Russia' they could have been charged with a crime of spying which
could carry the death penalty. But the stock staple in intelligence
was obtaining photographic evidence and that is what agents did.
It was very difficult as they were often watched by the other side
when they left their embassy. With the button camera, they were
able to take photographs covertly even with others watching them
as long as they were not too close.
Camera Apart To View How The Film Loaded.
These old button
cameras were typically paired with a 1950's trench coat. Since they fit
rather loosely, it would completely hide the bulkiness of the camera behind
the button and the pockets were large pockets one could easily and quickly
stick one's hand into to activate the lever. Today we tend to associate
the trench coat with the 1950's and 1960's spy and/or private-eye .However,
in those days everyone wore them. When you went out in the cold with one
on in a big city, you quickly blended in with thousands of others wearing
the same thing. The above photos are photos of typical trench coats of
the 1950's. Like men's suites, double breasted button coats where in.
The early button
cameras were quite effective for covertly taking snap shots on the streets
of foreign countries which had become the mainstay of federal intelligence
agencies. No one is exactly sure which federal intelligence agency developed
this technology first but they very quickly discovered them and copied
each other. As soon as British Intelligence noted the button camera that
the CIA had developed, they started making some for their agents. It wasn't
long until the KGB caught on to them. Or was it the CIA that discovered
them being used by KGB agents? Who knows!
The World's First Still Shot Button Cameras of The 1950's To Today's
High Grade Covert Video CCD Button Camera Kits And Portable Digital Video
Recorders Of Today And Review Them!
The High Tech Top Quality High Grade, High Resolution
Low Light CCD Button/Screw Covert Video Camera Kit!
Law Enforcement Grade! Used By Top Intelligence And Law Enforcement Organizations!
Camera Can Be Powered By The PV500,
Pocket Digital Video Recorders!
Review High Grade Pocket Digital Video Recorders: PV500,
NEW CUTTING-EDGE PRODUCTS! SHOP
Gear And Equipment Menu
Main Book, Manual And
Investigative Training Subjects Menu
To The Complete Spy And Private-Eye PI Vintage Front Page
Copyright: 2008, NAIS
All Rights Reserved.