General Information About the Development of Survey Meters 

1.  The Birth of the Instrumentation Companies

Prior to WW II, only a handful of companies produced any type of nuclear instrumentation, e.g., the Victoreen Instrument Company, Technical Associates, Cyclotron Specialties, and Eck & Krebs (which manufactured glass walled GM tubes). Overall, there was relatively little demand for their products. At the time, the only commercially available survey instrument seems to have been an ion chamber manufactured by Victoreen.

During the war three “instrument crises” arose that stimulated the development and production of survey meters (Ralph Lapp). The first was Operation Peppermint which was devoted to countering the potential use of radioactive materials against Allied forces during the invasion of Europe . The Victoreen  Model 247 was developed as part of this effort. The second crisis involved producing the instrumentation required for the Hanford Engineer Works. For the most part this was carried out by the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago although most of the manufacturing was performed by subcontractors such as Hallicrafters and National Technical Laboratories (which later became Beckman Instruments). The third major crisis was the preparation for the Trinity Test, the first nuclear explosion.

Many of those who helped develop the instrumentation for the Manhattan Project started their own companies after the war was over. The better known of these companies were Tracerlab, Atomic Instrument Company, Nuclear Instrument and Chemical Corporation (which later became Nuclear Chicago), Radiation Counter Laboratories, Nuclear Measurements Corporation, and Berkeley Scientific Company.

The first major stimulus for the production of instrumentation after WW II was Operation Crossroads, i.e., the atomic tests in the Pacific in 1946 and 1947.  The previously mentioned start-ups failed to benefit however.  Almost all the instrumentation for Operation Crossroads was supplied by the Victoreen Instrument Company, e.g., the Proteximeter, the Model X-263 GM, the Model X-325 GM, the Model 247 ion chamber, and the Model 263 GM.

In the 1950s, the demand for uranium to supply the nation’s weapons program and the nuclear power industry, and the sudden availability of a wide range of nuclides, primarily from the Oak Ridge Graphite reactor, spurred the growth of a new crop of instrument companies.


Morgan, G.W., Surveying and Monitoring of Radiation from Radioisotopes Nucleonics, March 1949, p. 24.

Kathren, R. Historical Development of Radiation Measurement and Protection, CRC Handbook of Radiation Measurement and Protection, p. 13.

Lapp, R.E. Survey of Nucleonics Instrumentation Industry, Nucleonics May 1949 p. 100.


2.  Four Key Developments in the History of Survey Instruments

  • Invention of the count rate meter (ca. 1937)

  • Development of miniature electrometer tubes (ca. 1938)

  • Development of photomultiplier tubes and scintillation crystals (ca. 1945 - 1950)

  • Invention of the transistor (1947) and its subsequent commercial availability.


3.  A Description of the Health Physics Instruments at the Clinton Labs during WW II

The following data is from “Protective Measures for Personnel” by J.J. Nickson which appeared in  “Industrial Medicine on the Plutonium Project” ed. Robert Stone, Vol. IV-20 in the National Nuclear Energy Series, 1951


Air proportional counter, tungsten wire anode, 2500 volt potential

Readout: arbitrary units on meter

Audio output:  yes  

Range: 0 – 100, 0 – 1,000, 0 – 10,000 cpm

Radiation detected:  alpha

Weight: 60.5 pounds

Chamber size: 1.5” x 10”, various probes used.

Warm up time: 50 s

Some microphonic noise

Ruggedness: good

AC powered

Controls: 6

Response affected by moisture.

Jesse, W.P. “Survey Instrument, Mark 1 Model 10” 1946.

Developed by C.J. Borkowski and C.R. Marsh “Poppy-Pulse Type Detector for Alphas, Betas,              Gammas, and Neutrons” AECD-2410, 1945.  



GM detector

Readout: No meter

Audio: yes

Range: “blocks out above 30 mR/h”  

Radiation detected: beta, gamma

Size: 9.5” x 7.25” x 4”

Weight: 10.5 pounds

Chamber size: 0.75” x 6” GM

Warm up time: 10 s

Not calibrated, used for scanning

Ruggedness: good

Controls: 2

Shoulder strap 


Zeuto (Zuto)

Ion chamber

Readout: linear scale

Audio: none

Range: 6,000 – 60,000 dpm

Radiation detected: alpha but some sensitivity to betas and gammas

Size: 10.5” x 5.5” x 5.5”

Weight: 9.5 pounds

Chamber size: 1.75” x 3.5” x 5”

Warm up time: 90 s

Some microphonics 

Ruggedness: fair

Controls: 2

Developed by Frank Shonka at the University of Chicago . A modification of the Zeus.  



Ion chamber

Readout: Linear scale

Audio: none

Range: 0 – 50, 0 – 250 0 – 5,000 mR/h

Radiation detected: alpha, beta, gamma

Size: 12.5’ x 6.5” x 6”

Weight: 12 pound

Chamber size: 4.5” x 6” x 4”

Warm up time: 30 s

Ruggedness: good

Controls: 2

Reference: Jesse, W.P. “Survey Instrument, Mark 1 Model 21-A, 1946.

Developed at Chicago by Frank Shonka



Readout: linear scale

Audio: none

Range: 0 – 60,000 dpm

Radiation detected: alpha

Size: 10.75” x 5.75” x 5.5”

Weight: 7.75 pounds

Chamber size: 3.5’ x 5” x 1.5’

Warm up time: 30 min

Susceptible to microphonics

Control: 1

After a few months the name was changed because of its similarity to plutonium. The official new name was “Snoops” although it was also known as “ Sandy ”.  


Lauritsen electroscope

Readout: linear scale, read by microscope, need stopwatch

Audio: none

Range; 0 – 1,000 mR/h

Radiation detected: beta gamma

Size: 13.75” x 3.5” x 8.75”

Weight: 7.75 pounds

Chamber size: 2.25” x 3”

Warm up time: 0

Ruggedness: good

Controls: 3



Ion chamber with pistol grip

Readout: linear scale

Audio: none

Range: 0 – 30, 0 – 300, 0 – 2,000 mR/h

Radiation detected: beta gamma

Size: 6.5” x 5.5” x 3.75”

Weight: 4 pounds

Chamber size: 3.25” x 6”

Warm-up time: 30 s

Ruggedness: good

Controls: 2

Developed by C.O. Ballou of what is now Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Reference: Bellou, C.E. “Cutie Pie, a Portable Radiation Instrument” MDDC-997, September 22, 1945.


Fish Pole

Ion chamber on end of pole, electrometer tube inside chamber

Readout: linear scale

Audio: no

Range: 0 – 40,000 mR/h

Radiation detected: beta gamma

Size: 6” x 5.75” x 4.5”

Weight: 5.5 pounds

Chamber size: 3” x 2.25”

Warm up time: 4 s

Ruggedness: fair

Controls: 2

Shoulder strap

Similar to Cutie Pie but smaller input resisters for lower sensitivity and only one or two scale.


L & W Electroscope (Landsverk and Wollan)

Improved version of Lauritsen electroscope

Readout: linear scale viewed with microscope

Audio: none

Range: 0 – 200, 0 – 2,000 mR/h

Radiation detected: beta gamma

Size: 6.5” 3.75” x 8”

Weight: 5 pounds

Chamber size: 3 x 1.5”

Warm up time: 0

Susceptible to microphonics

Ruggedness: poor

Controls: 3  


Paint Pail

Ion chamber in paint can.

Readout: Linear

Audio: none

Range: 0 – 20, 0 – 200, 0 – 2,000 mR/h

Radiation detected: Gamma

Size: 9” x 20” with pistol grip

Weight: 11 pounds

Chamber size: 9” x 9”

Warm up time: 20 s

Ruggedness: good

Controls: 5

The first detector to use the two-tube balanced circuit. The latter was developed by W.P. Overbeck in 1943 at what is now Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


Feinberg Radiation Meter

Range: 0 – 25, 0 – 100, 0 – 1000 mR/h

Audio: none

Radiation detected: beta, gamma

Size: 10” x 6.5” x 11.5”

Weight: 11.5 pounds

Chamber size: 6” x 6”

Warm up time: 8 minutes

Ruggedness: fair

Controls: 2


Betty Snoop

Probe with small plastic ion chamber, removable cap on end

Range: 0 – 0.2, 0 – 2, 0 – 20 and 0 – 200 rep/h

Chamber size: 3 cm diameter

Radiation detected: beta, gamma

Suitable for high end measurements in narrow beams.  

Survey Meters                   Museum Directory                   Museum Directory

Last updated: 07/25/07
Copyright 1999, Oak Ridge Associated Universities