A Chicago native, Marvin Camras received a B.S. in 1940 from Armour Institute of Technology (which along with Lewis Institute was an IIT predecessor) and an M.S. and Honorary Doctorate in 1942 and 1968 respectively, both from IIT.
During his junior year of college, Camras created an innovative magnetic recording head that improved sound quality by impressing a recording symmetrically on a wire by the gap of air between the wire and the head. Camras’ invention earned him his first patents and a position at the Armour Research Foundation. In that role, he modified his device for use by the U.S. Navy in training submarine pilots and the U.S. Army to thwart the enemy’s efforts through high-volume "decoy" attacks that deceived German soldiers as to the real landing locations. Camras later switched from wires to tapes and developed a ferric oxide coating for them that formed an improved surface on which to record.
Camras' research led to developments that underlie many modern recording and communication techniques. He studied remote control, high speed photography, magnetostriction, oscillators and static electricity, and spearheaded developments in high-frequency bias recording, stereo sound recording and reproduction by tape. Camras also invented multi-track recording, magnetic soundtracks for motion pictures, and a prototype video tape recorder. His recording method also led to the technology behind audio and video cassettes, floppy disks and magnetic strips on credit cards.
Camras received numerous awards for his contributions, most notably the 1990 National Medal of Technology from President George H. W. Bush—the highest honor bestowed by the President for technological achievement. He concluded his 50 year career at IIT and the Armour Research Foundation (which later became IIT Research Institute) in 1994, having been awarded more than 500 U.S. and international patents. In 1996 IIT launched Camras scholarships to attract the best and brightest high school students to careers in engineering.