When you say video surveillance, many of us will think of video cameras that are mounted in the corners of shops and banks or private investigators videotaping a married person having an affair with another individual as evidence for a divorce case. The truth is, the history of video surveillance is quite a little more complex than that and it goes back much further than most people thought it would be.

In the simplest of terms, video surveillance started with simple closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring.

The very first CCTV system was installed in Germany in 1942 by Siemens AG, for the purpose of observing the V-2 rockets’ launch. The one responsible for the design and the installation of the first CCTV system was Walter Bruch, a German engineer.

In the United States, the very first commercial CCTV system became available around the year 1949. Like Germany, the United States also used (and are still using them now) CCTV recording systems at modern launch sites to record the rocket launches, for the purpose of finding out possible causes of malfunctions. The bigger rockets are oftentimes fitted with CCTV systems, allowing personnel to see pictures of state separation that is to be transmitted back to earth via radio link.

In the year 1965 in the United States, there were press reports that suggested the police to use surveillance cameras in public areas. In 1968, Olean, New York was the first city in the United States to install surveillance video cameras across its primary business street in order to fight crime. In 1969, police cameras were first installed in the New York City Municipal Building close to the City Hall. This practice soon became widespread to other cities, with closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems vigilantly watched by officers all the time.

Ever since video cassette recorders were released in the market, video surveillance really started to progress and thus become a very valuable and indispensable tool. Analog technology utilizing taped video cassette recordings meant that surveillance could be preserved on tape as evidence. In the 1970s, video surveillance was used worldwide in everything from traffic control and law enforcement to divorce issues.

In 1975, England ordered the installation of video surveillance systems in 4 major Underground Train Stations and started monitoring the flow of traffic on main highway roads at the same time. However, in the United States, the use of video surveillance in public areas was not very widespread yet until the 1980s. At that time, banks and store owners quickly understood its potential value.

Businesses that were always troubled by theft, including banks, 24-hour mini-marts and gas stations, started mounting video surveillance systems to discourage theft and to help them in the apprehension of thieves, especially in areas where there is a high crime rate. The first place to ever utilize the CCTV in the UK was King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

The insurance industry also found the unique importance of video surveillance – bogus accident claims, worker’s compensation fraud and other various cases started to turn in the industry’s favor when they could present tapes of supposedly disabled workers having a great time, without any disabilities, at a family trip or reunion.

For the private residents, analog technology was mainly used in the 1970s and 1980s for gathering evidence on possibly one of the worst sides of human nature – poor parenting and cheating spouses. Private investigators or detectives were able to provide more compelling and graphic evidence of parental stupidity and affairs with video footage aside from still photo shots. Thus, because what you see in the video almost always doesn’t lie, video tapes became frequent evidence in the family court.

However, after a while, there were many cases wherein video surveillance systems at that time have had many drawbacks. Many owners and employees would become complacent and would tend to not change the tapes on a daily basis or they would reuse the tapes over and over again for months until they wear out. There was also the issue of recording in low light conditions or at night time. While the concept of video surveillance was good, its technology has not improved yet. During the 1980s, the Charged Coupled Device camera or CCD was developed. The CCD uses the power of microchip computer technology. They work by means of utilizing a photo effect that generates electrons comparative to the amount of light that falls on the image. With these new cameras, video surveillance during night time and low-light conditions finally became possible.

In the 1990s, another improvement in the history of video surveillance paved the way for practicality – Digital Multiplexing. By the time digital multiplexer units became affordable, it transformed the surveillance industry by enabling recording on multiple cameras simultaneously (in most cases, more than a dozen at a time). In addition, digital multiplexing supplemented features such as motion-only and time-lapse recording, which potentially saved a lot of wasted videotape.

In the mid-1990s, automated teller machines (ATMs) all over the United States and in most parts of the world had video surveillance cameras installed to record each and every transaction made by customers. Soon after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993, the New York Police Department (NYPD), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have made huge efforts in order to install surveillance cameras throughout the vicinity of the attack. Soon after that, several countries were also using either CCTV or videotaped surveillance to cover important happenings such as major sporting events and to prevent any anomalies that can occur as these events could also be potential hot spots for criminals and terrorists.

In 1998, there are about 3,000 CCTV systems that are being used in New York City. In Chicago alone, there are more than 10,000 CCTV systems present there.

The advancement of video surveillance is continuously developing. In the 21st century, many technological improvements and additions have been discovered and created, making video surveillance systems to be more powerful, more useful, more intelligent, more indispensable, more compact and most of all, more affordable.