Flow cytometry based on impedance and using the Coulter principle was first made available to Wallace H. Coulter in the U.S. under the patent number 2,656,508 in 1953.
The first fluoresence-based device was the ICP 11 which was developed in 1968 by Wolfgang Göhde from the University of Münster. It became available commercially in 1968 and 1969 when it was manufactured by the German developer Partec through Phywe AG in Göttingen. At the time, traditional absorption methods were still generally preferred over fluorescence techniques.
In 1965, Mack Fulwyler developed the flow cytometer that became the forerunner to today’s instruments. In particular, he was responsible for creating an electronic cell volume-based separator. This instrument could separate cells based on electronic cell volume and also used electrostatic deflection for segregation and sorting. It was called the Los Alamos Flow Microfluorometer.
In 1969, Phywe AG of Gottingen produced the first commercial flow cytometer built around a Zeiss fluorescent microscope.
In 1970, the commercial cytometer, the Cytograph, used the He-Ne laser system at 633 nm for scatter and became the first commercial instrument to incorporate a laser. This instrument could segregate and sort live and dead cells depending on the uptake of Trypan blue. This was followed by a fluorescence version called the Cytofluorograph, which was further developed into a device with an air-cooled argon laser at 488 nm.
The fluorescence based cytomtery was previously referred to as pulse cytophotometry or impulszytophotometrie in German. In 1976, eight years after the first fluorescence based flow cytometer was introduced, it was agreed at the Conference of the American Engineering Foundation in Pensacola, Florida, that the name “flow cytometry” could be used, a term which quickly became popular.