History of Panic Alarms

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Recent terrorist attacks against businesses and schools in America have caused great concern for the safety of America’s children in a facility without alarm systems. For centuries, man has depended on his best friend (the dog) to alert him to impending danger or an intruder. Technological developments have advanced, and the idea of alarms is to repel intruders in the same manner a barking dog alerts a homeowner. Historically, home and business alarm systems generally consist of control panels and deadbolt locks. High tech gadgets in today’s society have replaced outdated alarm systems. However, security needs have heightened due to the numerous terrorist attacks in recent years such as Columbine and 9/11. This article will address the history of alarm systems and the future system to notify intended recipients in the case of an emergency.

Alarms Before Electricity

In the eighteenth century, the best deterrent against crime was thought to be noise or the element of surprise. Patent records show the first electromagnetic enforcer against burglary was registered in 1853 by an inventor named Augustus Russell Pope. Pope created a simple battery-operated gadget which was connected as independent units by a parallel circuit. In the event a window or door was opened, and the circuit was closed, the sudden flow of current caused vibrations to be transmitted to a hammer which struck a brass bell. In addition, versions of these primitive alarms were utilized to protect affluent families who lived in the city.

Electrical Alarms and Telegraph Wiring

Edwin Holmes bought the rights to Pope’s design in 1857. He founded the first company of electrical alarm systems (Holmes Electric Protection Company). Holmes is also credited with establishing the electromagnetic alarms.  Edwin Holmes also utilized numerous patents for insulating telegraph wires. Holmes and his son Edwin T. Holmes convinced the Boston and New York phone companies to allow their customers such as Tiffany and Lord & Taylor to utilize unused telephone lines at night to support the innovative alarm system.

Central Monitoring Station

Edward Callahan invented the first gold and stock ticker in 1867. The ticker quickly showed price changes to investors. The idea for a central monitoring station was created after Callahan’s boss Elisha Andrews was the victim of a burglary and robbery. Callahan was determined to protect his boss and others affiliated with the stock market. Callahan created an emergency call box that serviced fifty of Andrew’s neighbors. Callahan’s system was designed to alert other neighbors by assigning a certain number of rings for each house that would signal others. For example, if an alarm rang in house A, houses B, and C were notified. In addition, Callahan expanded his idea by dividing New York City into districts that would be connected to a central monitoring system. In the event of an emergency, a messenger boy was sent to arrange for help in a particular district.

Furthermore, the emergency boxes invented by Callahan are still utilized today for police, fire, and messenger services. Callahan utilized the idea of obtaining help in the event of an emergency to form the American District Telegraph (ADT) in 1871 which has become largest security company nationwide today. However, ADT is currently facing numerous lawsuits because they knowingly failed to inform customers of the possibility their system is not encrypted and easily hacked. A recent article by Field (2016) states an unauthorized third party can access ADT’s software and view when homeowners are opening or closing a door which leaves homeowners vulnerable for a burglar to invade their home.

High Tech Alarms in the Twentieth Century

The Second World War (WWII) saw the installation of panic systems in bombers. These systems allowed the pilot to alert crew members that the plane was hit by enemy fire.

After WWII, alarm technology progressed and became more affordable; thus, improving security across the nation. Engineers integrated motion detectors in alarm systems in the 1970’s. By the 1980’s alarm systems had become a safety measure that was installed when buildings were erected. Over the past four decades, technology has improved to include wireless alarm systems. This is a vast improvement over the early alarm systems that required unsightly wires and cables.


Today, technology has taken over panic alarms as we know them. The base product from TeamAlert is software that can be installed on any computer, no hardware buttons required! Furthermore, a panic alarm can be located virtually anywhere, from a receptionist’s desk, even on someone’s person! The possibilities are endless these days!

With CRS Notify, no one is left wondering if the distress signal makes it to the proper authorities. Even with the discreet alarms themselves, everyone can rest assured that the signal is received by the proper authorities within moments when seconds matter the most in a crisis.

Questions about the history of panic buttons?

Contact us for more information to make the best decision for your panic buttons.

info@communityresponsesystems.com or 800-533-7201 M-F 8-5 pm CST