The Story of Peter Petroff and the First Digital Watch

A NASA engineer and inventor who developed heart-monitoring equipment and originated the first-ever digital wristwatch. These are just some of the accomplishments used to describe Bulgarian inventor Petar Petroff. But, before becoming one of the twentieth century's most productive inventors, Petroff led an eventful and adventurous life that few know about.

James Bond wearing digital watch
In the 1993 Bond film, "Live And Let Die," Bond wears a Hamilton Pulsar P2 2900. Photo: PHOTOSHOT UPPA / Be&W

He pursued a life full of enthusiasm and experiences. In Petroff’s obituary, published in the “New York Times,” one of his sons, Ralph Petroff, is quoted saying how ironic it is that his father died a natural death.

Peter Petroff: Indiana Edison-Jones

“He always laughed at danger and he laughed at death. He should have never made it to his 83rd birthday, let alone his 20th,” Ralph Petroff said. “I guess if you were to combine Indiana Jones with Thomas Edison, the result would be Peter Petroff.”

And he is not wrong. Petroff’s life is not only remarkable because of his creations but also the way he decided to live it.

His story began in the autumn of 1919 when Petar was born in the small village of Brestovitsa, located in Southern Bulgaria. Very little is known about his childhood years but the first information that history has on him dates back to 1939 when, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion.

Digital watch for the Space Age

By then, the world was in the grasp of the Second World War and it is known that Petroff was captured and sent to a war camp in Poland, from where he managed to escape in 1941. 

After those events, he returned to Bulgaria and decided to join the country’s army. At the end of the war, however, and with the communists taking over, the ruling Petroff moved to Germany, where he studied engineering at the University of Munich.

In 1951 his will and enthusiasm took him outside Europe. Petroff left Germany and headed to Toronto, Canada, where he participated in the construction of air bases. Petroff also took a trip to Indochina, where he built bridges and power plants. 

His adventurous travel eventually found him in the United States, on the shores of Florida. There he was involved in many space projects and is even a part of the team that creates the first meteorological satellite “Nimbus”.

Is it digital watch or is it Pulsar?

In the 1960s, he made a huge choice and started his own company, “Care Electrics,” where he produced a wireless heart monitor and an electronic wristwatch. The first prototype, created in 1969, was given the name “Pulsar” and became well-known because of the way it functioned – when you pressed the clock button, instead of an arrow – red lights appeared, which was something remarkable for that time and age.

Taking us five years later, those same digital watches flooded the market, and the Pulsar patent was sold to the Japanese company ‘Seiko’. The Pulsar digital watch can be seen even today on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. 

Petroff was a great mind that made his mark in history but his life story is exciting nonetheless. During his life, he changed 26 positions: from driver to president of a company, he graduated in 4 engineering specialties and showed everyone that no matter where you come from, you can be a dreamer that can turn goals into reality.

Mihail Petrov

a young journalist covering international news, politics, social issues and human stories. His work is centered around critical thinking, activism and human rights. Petrov consideres himself a socially concious person with expressed interests in the areas of foreign affairs and cultural diversity.

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