The existence of the electromagnetic pulse has been known since the 1940's when nuclear weapons were being developed and tested. However, because of lack of data, the effects of an EMP were not fully known until 1962. At this time, the United States was conducting a series of high-altitude atmospheric tests, code named "Fishbowl." The nuclear explosion, "Starfish Prime," which was detonated in the Pacific Ocean 800 miles from Hawaii, caused an EMP that disrupted radio stations and electrical equipment throughout Hawaii. Consequently, in 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty to counter the considerable threat posed by EMPs. Unfortunately, the destructive potential of an EMP increases everyday as society becomes evermore technological because of an escalating dependence on electronics.

Arthur H. Compton               
    A. H. Compton (1892 1962) Professor of Physics, and Head of the Department of Physics at the Washington University and University of Chicago, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Washington University. The Nobel Prize in Physics 1927
    In 1941 Compton was appointed Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences Committee to Evaluate Use of Atomic Energy in War.
    This led, in 1922, to his discovery of the effect, nowadays known as the Compton effect, which clearly illustrates the particle concept of electromagnetic radiation.

In July 1962, a 1.44 megaton (6.0 PJ) United States nuclear test in space, 400 kilometres (250 mi) above the mid-Pacific Ocean, called the "Starfish Prime" test, demonstrated to nuclear scientists that the magnitude and effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP), produced by high altitude nuclear explosion were much larger than had been previously calculated. "Starfish Prime" also made those effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii, about 1,445 kilometres (898 mi) away from the detonation point, knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and damaging telephone company microwave link.

In 1962, the Soviet Union also performed a series of three EMP-producing nuclear tests in space over Kazakhstan, which were the last in the series called "The K Project".  Although these weapons were much smaller (300 kilotons or 1.3 PJ) than the "Starfish Prime" test, since those tests were done over a populated large land mass (and also at a location where the Earth's magnetic field was greater), the damage caused by the resulting EMP was reportedly much greater than in the "Starfish Prime" nuclear test. The geomagnetic storm (from the test designated as "Test 184") even induced an electrical current surge in a long underground power line that caused a fire in the power plant in the city of Karaganda

Non-nuclear history

The concept of the explosively pumped flux compression generator for generating a non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse was conceived as early as 1951 by Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union, but nations have usually kept their most recent work on non-nuclear EMP highly classified until the technology was old enough for similar ideas to be conceived by physicists in other nations.