From Death Ray to Star Wars: Nikola Tesla’s WMD

Genius inventor Nikola Tesla is responsible for A/C current, the radio, the remote control, and…the death of thousands? One of his ideas chillingly mirrored the infant Manhattan Project, which he refused to work on for ethical reasons, preferring his own weapon of mass destruction:

“This ‘death-beam,’ Dr. Tesla said, will operate silently but effectively at distances “as far as a telescope could see an object on the ground and as far as the curvature of the earth would permit it.” It will be invisible and will leave no marks behind it beyond its evidence of destruction. An army of 1,000,000 dead, annihilated in an instant, he said, would not reveal even under the most powerful microscope just what catastrophe had caused its destruction. – The New York Times, 11 July 1934

Naturally, this Death Ray would be used to—what else?—”make war impossible.”

Fear will keep the local systems in line, sure, but was it ever built? By the Russians, or maybe Ronald Regan? Could Superman withstand it? In honor of Tesla’s 153rd birthday, listen to Mike Daisey’s tale of Nikola Tesla’s legendary Death Ray. This segment originally aired on Studio 360; visit PBS for more about Tesla’s strange genius.


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