Who really invented the Taser technology, and when?

Would you be surprised to learn that Taser technology first mentioned in 1960s, was already available to use as early as 1851?


Taser is a conducted energy device primarily used to incapacitate people. The way it works, a taser device fires two small darts, which stay connected to the main unit by a thin insulated copper wire. Once fired the probes travel at 180 feet per second, and must land at least 4 inches apart from each other to complete the circuit and channel an electric pulse into the target person's body.
  • The taser delivers 19 short pulses per second over 5 seconds, with an average current of 2 to 4 milliamps. It creates an electric field, which stimulates nerve cells to send an electrical impulse. The impulse travels to muscles and causes "neuromuscular incapacitation," temporarily paralyzing the muscles.
  • A taser works by operating at a high voltage and low amperage capacity. Operating in this capacity ensures that the target receives a shock that essentially stuns the target but leaves no lasting or permanent damage to the victim.
  • Taser - Wikipedia
Here is some Taser history from the conventional wisdom sources. A US patent by Kunio Shimizu titled "Arrest device" filed in 1966 describes an electrical discharge gun with a projectile connected to a wire with a pair of electrode needles for skin attachment.
US3523538-drawings-page-2.jpg US3523538-drawings-page-3.jpg

The patent does exist and was granted in 1970. It is described as “Electrical discharge weapons for stunning for remote electrical discharge by means of a wireless projectile.”
  • I am not sure who this Kunio Shimizu was and what kind of education he had. The only Kunio Shimizu I was able to locate on the internet, was some Japanese playwright born in 1936.
  • The main part of the taser story starts in 1969, when Jack Cover, a NASA researcher, began developing the first Taser. Of course, in the 20th century, unlike in the 19th, it required some relevant education to develop things. And our Jack Cover was indeed pretty educated. He earned a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in nuclear physics at the University of Chicago.
  • In 1970, Jack Cover formed Taser Systems, Inc., named for a Tom Swift novel about the Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle. This is probably where our connection to the 19th century could be found.
  • By 1974, Cover had completed the device. The first Taser model that was offered for sale, was called the TASER Public Defender. It used gunpowder as its propellant, which led the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to classify it as a firearm in 1976.
The remainder of the taser history is irrelevant for the matter at hand. For us, only three things are important from what I just shared:
  1. the first working model was available in 1974.
  2. taser delivers 19 short pulses per second of high voltage low amperage.
  3. the method of delivery - two darts penetrating a body.
Due to my employment, I’m pretty familiar with a taser device. I even had a pleasure of experiencing its effects on a human body back in 2007.

Now, you can imagine my bewilderment when I stumbled into the following article dated with 1852. The article appeared in a book titled “Strange Stories of the Animal World.” While the book was published in 1866, the article itself was dated with 1852.

You can imagine how surprised I was, when I realized that what this 1852 article was talking about was a mid-19th century Taser technology. Whale’s muscles are being paralyzed by 8 short pulses per second, via electricity delivered by the means of an oversized dart attached to a metallic wire and connected to an electric device.
  • The only thing that did not make sense to me was a single harpoon used, for you need two penetrations to complete the circuit. So, I kept on searching.
My search produced the following article published in the 1853 annual of Scientific Discovery. The article did not provide any information on the second harpoon, but did elaborate on the one I’ve just read. Here is what it says.

I’m not sure what kind of mathematics they used to obtain 950 strokes per minute out of 8 strokes per second. Yet, this article clearly indicates that the machine was operational as early as 1851, but the vital information on the second harpoon to complete the circuit is still absent. I kept on searching, and eventually I found what I was looking for.
  • The missing information was published in the 1849 issue of the Scientific American Magazine. The article is titled “A Galvanic or Electric Harpoon for Paralyzing Whales.”
Two harpoons indicated by a letter “A”, were to be connected to a battery indicated by a letter “B” by chains, indicated by a letter “C”. Said chains may be bound in a cord, and said cords and harpoons, excepting the actual points of contact with the body, indicated by a letter “D”, were to be insulated in any nonconducting flexible substance. Both harpoons were to be launched simultaneously, to produce the desired effect.

Naturally, the invention dated with 1849 had the following:
  1. Two darts with attached wires.
  2. Wires were attached to a device to complete the circuit.
  3. The device was delivering multiple short pulses of electricity.
  4. The result produced a temporarily paralyzed fish or whale.
I do not see how it could be anything but the mid-19th century taser technology officially invented in the late 1960s. For killing a fish with electricity, one does not need two harpoons and short multiple pulses of electricity to produce the desired effect. What desired effect are they talking about? In my opinion this desired effect is the temporary neuromuscular incapacitation which can only be achieved via high voltage low amperage pulses, which in itself makes it a taser technology. If you have any other opinions, please share.

KD: If what we have is indeed a technology we know today as a Taser, then what level of education and knowledge did they possess prior to the first half of the 19th century. Wanted to remind you that the gentlemen who developed the taser in 1960s-1970s had a nuclear physics PhD.

This here is the 1852 patent I located afterwards.

Than again, do we really know who invented this thing? Here is a different guy mentioned as the inventor of this contraption. This synchronicity is somewhat suspicius. Were they reintroducing some older pre-existing tech?

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