The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Led the Way for the Smartwatch

By Attila Nagy on at

Humans have been putting technology on their wrists for a long time — and not just to tell the time. The Apple Watch is just the latest in a long line of wrist-borne devices, so here's a brief history of watches that were smart for their time, too.

An AK-39, a German pilot and navigator's wrist compass, from World War II.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Bonhams


The Steineck ABC wrist watch cam, which was used by German spies in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: International Spy Museum//Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images


Dick Tracy wrist radios from 1947-1990.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Heritage Auctions

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Heritage Auctions


An invention by Fritz Harbach: a contact plate worn like a wrist watch gives an electric shock to any attacker, 1949.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Albert Riethausen/AP


1949: Cledo Brunetti, associate director of Stanford Research Institute, wearing his invention — a tiny radio broadcasting unit.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: AP


A field-strength indicator for the Telefunken PE-484 direction finder from the late 1950s, intended for tracking down clandestine radio stations.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Crypto Museum


A Panasonic R-72S Toot-a-Loop Bracelet Radio, made in Japan circa 1972.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Attila Nagy/Gizmodo


1981: A small, battery-powered self-protection device, designed to drive off attackers with an electric shock, developed by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Franklin Howard/BIPs/Getty Images


1999: The Wristphone by NTT, unveiled at the Demo99 conference in Indian Wells, California.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Getty Images


2000: Casio WMP-1V Wrist Audio Player, the world's first wrist-worn MP3 player.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: newsmakers/Getty Images


2000: The Casio PC-UNITE BZX-20 data viewer that can store and display contacts, calendar, and PIM (Personal Information Management) data, downloaded from a computer using infrared.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: newsmakers/Getty Images


2000: A wrist transmitter introduced by Hyland Hills Water World, Colorado. The wireless tracking system lets parents pinpoint the location of their children to within ten feet — anywhere on the park's 64 acres.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Kevin Higley/AP


The Fossil Wrist PDA running Palm OS in 2003.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Danski14/Wikimedia Commons


2010s: The Zypad WR1100 and WL11XX rugged wrist-worn personal computers integrate GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth/Zigbee, biometric sensor, and a digital compass.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Parvus/Market Wired

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Eurotech


2010: TheSpecOps Systems WC2 wearable military computer system with iKey KYB-170-OEM keypad.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: iKey


A Marine checks his Altimaster-2 MA2-30 altimeter during a jump exercise on February 18, 2014.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Cpl. Austin Long/Marine Corps


January 6, 2015: The launch of the Nixie wrist wearable quadcopter drone camera at International CES in 2015.

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images


Here's an odd one: The "Snore stopper" wristband, which claims to help you stop snoring with a "natural Bio-feedback technique."

The Fantastic Vintage Wrist Gadgets That Came Way Before the Smartwatch

Photo: Amazon


Top image: Heritage Auctions