Following the advice I got from the user Semaphore I would like to split my original airport security question into separate parts and go into a bit more detail in regards to what I would like to know about those pictures, and this one in particular.


Just hate going through airport security with all those new gizmos, c. 1960.

Taken at Atlanta Municipal Airport during testing for their first security instruments.

That was before the first hijacking of a commercial flight in the US, if I am not mistaken!

Do you think it is real?

It seems to be taken at that time indeed, but... What sort of device would it be technically? The graphs on the paper show some repeating cycles... And the two vertical bars in there do not really look like a magnetometer to me. Also I do not think such things were even being developed back in those days as something for use on humans...

Even if the picture postdates the first hijackings, my impression is still that before 1968, both the airlines and the passengers viewed them as more of an inconvenience, rather than terrorism act or something. So, everyone was opposed to the idea of screening passengers, as that would just scare them off, and lead to costs for the carriers. Federal agents could be deployed on flights upon request from 1961... Apparently it was considered sufficient back then really. On top of that I do not think Atlanta was a place very popular with hijackers...

Also the facial expression of the woman and the other photographer in the background suggest that it was something staged. I feel it could be that someone just found it, and said it was airport security as a joke or a prank, because that was the first thing they thought upon seeing this...

The picture is circulated in the web with this description, but I could not find any more information on it. And that just makes me even more interested to know what is actually happening there.

If anyone knows what these things are all about, and how it used to work back then, I would absolutely love to hear that. So any explanations strongly appreciated! Thank You!

  • The hairstyle and dress print certainly seem more late 1960s if not early 1970s to me.
    – Jon Custer
    May 25, 2018 at 0:55
  • @JonCuster. If that is late sixties or early seventies that would certainly make a lot more sense, but would the trousers and ties look different then? The equipment and the whole scene are still strange though.
    – Kit Smith
    May 25, 2018 at 1:02
  • First Amierican hijacking was 1961. "Prior to the 1970s American airports had minimal security arrangements to prevent acts of terrorism. Measures were introduced starting in the late 1960s after several high-profile hijackings." Airport Security.
    – MCW
    May 25, 2018 at 3:41
  • 1
    Not sure why OP omitted this information, but as I wrote previously, the photo is from the Atlanta History Center. It's taken by a photographer called Bill Wilson and the description says the model is named Linda Fay. Perhaps a good palce to start would be to ask either the Center or the Airport.
    – Semaphore
    May 25, 2018 at 23:02
  • @Semaphore I did originally post here the link that you gave me as a source of the picture. I guess that information was lost when Malandy later inserted the photo into the post directly. Again, I did not mean to omit anything.
    – Kit Smith
    May 26, 2018 at 1:17

1 Answer 1


Magnetometer technology certainly existed back then and could easily have been packaged in two poles like that. I'd guess that they were a fairly low-frequency resonant circuit where the field sort of just sits there between the two antennae humming quietly and happily as long as there's no metal in the middle. If metal comes through, the resonance is disrupted and the current changes. The strip-chart recorder would be displaying the current and would show a blip characteristic of the amount and type of metal and the speed of movement. I can't say for sure that that's what it is, but it certainly could be.

There would be years of testing before anything went into production and use.

OTOH, I agree that the picture looks staged.

  • Thank you for your reply! I am certainly not saying the technology did not exist, just that it was not meant for this purpose. When metal detectors became compulsory in 72, they would initially make them out of loggers metal detectors, used to find broken tools in wood... What are the cycles on the graph though? Is the frequency that low? I guess in that case one could really easily walk through between the impulses there. Also, the poles seem to be attached to a metal fence, and even these days, many metal detectors do not work properly, when placed adjacent to each other or metal objects.
    – Kit Smith
    May 25, 2018 at 1:14
  • On top of that, on the accepted pictures of airport metal detectors, even the most compact models, are a lot bigger and more bulky than this, and that was ten years later.
    – Kit Smith
    May 25, 2018 at 1:17
  • Good points. First, all I can see is a squiggly line with irregular wiggles. This is what I'd expect to see if you're looking at something like the current flowing in a resonant circuit. The whole point is to tune the circuit so it's nearly unstable -- that way some metal in the field will cause big swings that are obvious. In the mean time, with no metal, it wiggles and wobbles. The frequency is RF, you can't squeeze between the cycles! The fluctuations you see are small variations in the strength of the RF field.
    – Mark Olson
    May 25, 2018 at 1:34
  • You;re right, of course, that the metal detectors they wound up using in airports work differently. Resonant field systems do work -- I believe that's how the metal detectors used by treasure hunters work -- but I'd not be surprised to learn that other techniques turned out to be better. (If for no other reason than that the two poles arrangement probably causes the field to spread pretty widely which adds noise and decreases sensitivity to actual weapons.)
    – Mark Olson
    May 25, 2018 at 1:36
  • Ok, now I can see the wiggles on the line. I was originally referring to the big spikes that seem to repeat every so often. Yes, they are not identical, like heartbeats or something, but still similar to each other. There appears to be no distinctive feature, which could be a reaction to her going through.
    – Kit Smith
    May 25, 2018 at 21:20

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