View Full Version : Did Tesla really invent the Death Ray?

02-15-2009, 01:55 PM
Tesla is considered by many to be the most brilliant men to have ever lived. Most of his stuff is out in the open in plaind sight, but I've always hear stories about him having invented a Death Ray (particle beam weapon) that our goverment seized the plans for and kept it top secret. Can someone fill me in?d

02-15-2009, 02:10 PM
Well, somebody invented the 1920's Style Death Ray.

I blame Tesla.

02-15-2009, 02:12 PM
Short answer: No.

Long answer: Tesla did not claim to have invented a death ray, he stated that if the government was willing to fund his research he could build one. Tesla wasn't the most stable of fellows in his early years, and his mental problems worsened as he grew older. This might have something to do with the fact that he exposed himself (deliberately) to large doses of x-rays (he thought it was healthy).

The government is said to have raided Tesla's hotel room after he died and confiscated many of his papers, and these were said to contain many of his secrets in regards to things like death rays and the like. Given that he died in 1943, with WWII raging in Europe, and the US desperately researching numerous weapons, it seems unlikely that if the government did raid his hotel room and found the plans for a death ray, that they wouldn't have used it at some point during the war. The Allies were very worried that the Germans would develop a nuclear weapon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_heavy_water_sabotage) and certainly would not have hesitated in using a death ray against the Germans if they could.

Nor would the US have hestitated in using such a weapon if they'd have developed it after WWII. It would be a highly effective tool in combat, and even though there were only "small" scale wars that the US fought in after 1945, something that could wipe out large numbers of people without leaving behind massive amounts of radiation would have been used, and used often.

02-15-2009, 02:34 PM
No, but Steve Irwin discovered one.

02-15-2009, 02:38 PM
No, but Steve Irwin discovered one.

I'm going to laugh at this one all the way to the altar to beg for forgiveness.

Exapno Mapcase
02-15-2009, 03:09 PM
Tesla is considered by many to be the most brilliant men to have ever lived.

Tesla is considered by many to be a nutcase who did great work when young and then went off the deep end and started making claims that were pure rabbit droppings. Nobody's ever replicated the devices he claimed to have made for the simple reason that they were impossible then and now. The answer to every Tesla question ever asked on this site - and there have been dozens - has always been no. No, he didn't invent a death ray. No, he didn't send electricity through the air to power huge dynamos. No, he didn't do this, that, or the other.

He did have one of the most incredible collection of mental illnesses ever testified to, however, if that's any consolation. It sure wasn't to him.

02-15-2009, 04:05 PM
Tesla didn't come up with the idea of a "death ray". As I've written elsewhere, H.G. Wells seems to have been the first to come up with a "ray gun" in his novel The War of the Worlds, inspired in all likelihood by the many new "rays" being descovered at that time. Ray weapons started showing up in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulp writers at the beginning of the 20th century. But there's one source I missed, reported in an article on Beam Weapons this month in [i]Optics and Photonics News[/B] by Jeff Hecjt. I can't link to it (requires a membership), but here's the relevant section:

The idea of a “death ray” that kills on contact dates from a 1915 book by Arthur B. Reeve titled The Exploits of Elaine. The hero, a scientific detective named Craig Kenney, detects “some kind of wireless rays—infrared I think,” which burn wood when reflected from a mirror, but kill people if they illuminate their heads, leaving only a coin-sized dark spot. The phrase “death ray” appears only in a chapter title. However, after a silent movie serial was made from the book, it lingered in the popular imagination.

02-15-2009, 09:27 PM
Only in the alternate universe where a time traveler killed Hitler and WWII was fought against Stalin instead. They use a Hell of a lot of power, though.

02-16-2009, 03:04 AM
Only in the alternate universe where a time traveler killed Hitler and WWII was fought against Stalin instead. They use a Hell of a lot of power, though.

But was Hitler covered in acid glue before he was killed?

02-16-2009, 06:29 AM
totally off topic, but if your a Tesla fan it deserves a mention.

There is a movie, recent I think, where two magicians are duking it out to be number one.

One of em hires Tesla to help.

He does, sorta.

The movie ending has one hell of a twist and is damn creepy once all is revealed.

Anybody remember the name of the movie? And don't spoil it for anyone!

02-16-2009, 06:35 AM
Anybody remember the name of the movie? And don't spoil it for anyone!
The Prestige. One of my favorite movies.

Superfluous Parentheses
02-16-2009, 06:36 AM
Anybody remember the name of the movie? And don't spoil it for anyone!
Searching imdb for Nikola Tesla (http://imdb.com/character/ch0003896/) turns up the Prestige (http://imdb.com/title/tt0482571/), which is about magicians.

02-16-2009, 07:03 AM
Searching imdb for Nikola Tesla (http://imdb.com/character/ch0003896/) turns up the Prestige (http://imdb.com/title/tt0482571/), which is about magicians.

I thought the movie made great use of the Tesla mythos and David Bowie played the part to a T. I highly recommend to anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

I give it 4-Death Rays up!!:cool:

Exapno Mapcase
02-16-2009, 10:21 AM
Did Tesla ever claim that he had invented a death ray? That's the Internet meme, but we all know how accurate the Internet is.

I decided to check a more authoritative source, Margaret Cheney's Tesla: Man Out of Time. Mostly because it's the only Tesla biography I happen to own. Cheney is fairly credulous about Tesla's claims and her science probably isn't up to his. So when she says no, that raises my eyebrows.

For years it had been rumored that Tesla had invented a powerful beam, a death ray, but he had been strangely uncommunicative on the subject. In early 1924 a flurry of news reports from Europe claimed that a death ray had been invented there - first by an Englishman, then by a German, then by a Russian. Almost at once an American scientist, Dr. T. F. Wall, applied for a patent on a death ray which he claimed would stop airplanes and cars. Then a newspaper in Colorado proudly reported that Tesla had invented the first invisible death ray capable of stopping aircraft in flight while he had been experimenting there in 1899. The inventor was unusually noncommittal on the matter.
Much later, in 1935, he did make a very extravagant claim in his article "A Machine to End War," in Liberty Magazine, Feb. 1935. The article was the standard "imagine the world 100 years in the future" nonsense. He talked about "a new discovery" that would:
make any country, large or small, impregnable against armies, airplanes, and other means of attack [making it possible to] destroy anything, men or machines, approaching within a radius of 200 miles. It will, so to speak, provide a wall of power offering an insuperable obstacle against any effective aggression.
It was not, however, a death ray but a charged particle beam projector. He makes the difference clear by noting that rays diffuse over distance. He offered his "particle beam" to Westinghouse, but they were too skeptical even to give him the chance to do preliminary work on a patent. Nobody today believes he understood anything of the way such particle beams interact with the atmosphere, reducing their effectiveness.

Not only did Tesla not create a death ray, he never said he did. Late in life, decades after he stopped doing useful research, he wrote a futuristic article about coming marvels that contained a reference to a super-science weapon about equivalent to those in the contemporary pages of Astounding Stories of Super-Science. None of these things ever existed in reality. None ever could.

Could we now please put the "death ray" fable to rest forever?

02-16-2009, 10:23 AM
Somewhere, i remember seeing a lurid artist's vision of Tesla's "Wardenclyffe" tower, throwing off lightning bolts. Of course the tower was meant to e a high power radio transmitter-but it was never activated (Tesla ran out of money, and JP Morgan didn't advance him any more cash). I think the writers of the time confused tesla's radio ambitions with the "death ray". My question: if Tesla had gotten the money 9and powered up wardenclyffe)-what would have happened-would the copper dome indeed be sparking and sending out lightning bolts?
It is hard to see how Tesla could have used it as a weapon-it was intended to swamp out Marconi's transmitters, and take control of trans-Atlantic radio communications.

02-16-2009, 12:02 PM
I will point out, since we're looking at fictional references, that the legend that Tesla invented a death ray, the plans for which were seized by the government at his death, is a major plot element in Spider Robinson's Callahan's Key.

02-16-2009, 01:05 PM
Now that Exapno Mapcase has given what should probably be the definitive answer, I can add that every time I head about Tesla's supposed death ray I can't help but think of one of my favorite Charles Addams cartoons (http://wunderland.com/WTS/Rash/misc/addams.htm).


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