The first working laser was developed by Theodore (Ted) Maiman and his assistant Irnee D’Haenens at Hughes Research Laboratories on May 16, 1960. The photograph above shows the ruby laser they created, building on previous work with masers. Pulses from a flash tube cause the pink rod made from ruby to lase red, at a wavelength of 694.3 nm.
Maiman wrote up his work for Physical Review Letters who, in one of history’s worst-ever scientific publishing decisions, refused to print it. Apparently the world’s first laser wasn’t interesting enough – although Nature was happy to run the story on 6 August. Initially the device seemed to be a “a solution looking for a problem,” but today it would be difficult to imagine a world without products like CDs or barcode scanners. Thanks, guys!