Nikola Tesla’s Death Ray

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Is the Mystery of Nikola Tesla’s Death Ray Solved?

In the early 20th century, many scientists were racing to invent a death ray. In 1924, British inventor Harry Grindell Matthews was trying to sell the British Air Ministry what he called a death ray that would shoot down airplanes at a distance. But he was unable to produce a working model or demonstrate it to the military.

Nevertheless, news of this led the American inventor Edwin R. Scott to claim to be the first to develop a death ray. Then, in 1934, Spanish inventor Antonion Longoria joined those claiming to have invented a death ray machine. However, none of them succeeded. It would be the famous inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) who provided the most detailed framework for such a device. Today, he is the only person who comes to mind when one thinks of the death ray.

In an interview with Time Magazine in 1934, Tesla explained the concept of a “teleforce” (or directed energy) weapon that could destroy fleets of airplanes or entire armies at a distance of 400 km. Unlike many others, however, Tesla would add that he was building this device for a different purpose. He hoped that the applications of his invention could be peaceful.

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In fact, this new device would dominate the last decades of Tesla’s life. Tesla never provided much evidence that the death ray worked. But no one could completely dismiss the idea either. After all, this was Tesla we’re talking about.

How did Tesla’s death ray work?

Nikola Tesla's Death Ray 1

Tesla tried to interest the US War Department and several European countries in the device at the time. However, none of them contracted Tesla to build it. Tesla revealed details about the death ray in an article in Liberty Magazine in 1935. Moreover, at a meeting at the Yugoslavian Embassy in 1937, Tesla said he had built one.

According to his statements, the device would be mounted on top of a building. This weapon was to be used for defense purposes. Because any nation using it would be resistant to any kind of attack up to 322 kilometers. So this beam would act as a kind of shield.

It was claimed that this weapon was capable of directing a concentrated and compressed electric beam over great distances. With this long-distance success, it would stop armies by building a wall of electricity. In this way, it would prevent the borders of countries from being crossed by military methods.

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Even if Tesla had built a death ray, he could not have seen it in action

Nikola Tesla's Death Ray 2

At the end of his life, Tesla started living in hotels to escape debts. It was January 7, 1943 when Tesla’s nephew Sava Kosanovich went to visit Tesla at the New Yorker Hotel with two science editors for an interview. But unfortunately, they would find Tesla dead in his room. The cause of death was heart failure.

Upon learning of Tesla’s death, the FBI confiscated all of Tesla’s work to prevent it from falling into Soviet hands. The FBI also received intelligence that Tesla kept his papers in 50 boxes in a warehouse in New York and that one of these boxes was left in the Grosvernor Clinton Hotel as a safe deposit box. It is alleged that the box in this hotel also contained work on wireless energy transmission and the death ray. Again allegedly, these documents were confiscated by the US military who wanted them for war purposes.

Did Tesla really build such a device?

Nikola Tesla's Death Ray 3

We don’t know exactly. However, some think it is possible. But if Tesla created a death ray and nobody took it, there is no clue where he could have put it. There was also no obvious reason why he never showed it to the public.

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After the end of the Second World War, the Cold War would accelerate. As American military leaders sought to gain the upper hand against the Soviet Union, Nikola Tesla’s name would come to mind. They launched a top-secret military operation to build a death ray, although the details are not very clear. Apparently they were not successful. But their interest in the subject never waned.

Later, many countries, including Japan and Germany, spent billions of dollars to build the weapon, but it was never built. Perhaps Tesla never did. After all, Tesla suffered from mental health problems for most of his life.

In later years, when he claimed to have built a death ray, his condition deteriorated rapidly. In fact, the death ray was not the only invention he claimed to have created but never produced. Some of his inventions were hidden only in the depths of his mind.

Nonetheless, humanity’s efforts to vindicate Tesla accelerated scientific research. Many things, such as laser guns and sonic weapons, were invented after Tesla’s death. But so far, no one has been able to develop Tesla’s weapon, the so-called death ray. So the mystery is not yet solved. That’s why the idea still fuels many science fiction movies as well as conspiracy theories.

Ali Esen

Istanbul University, Department of Mathematics. Interested in science and technology.

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