Sunday 6 October 2013

Tesla's Death Ray

Among some rather tedious purchase orders from abroad available in archives, there is occasionally a note that stands out.

"177. Comrade Voroshilov's proposal.

Approve comrade Voroshilov's proposal to purchase blueprints and technical aid relevant to the invention of the American scientist Tesla, dedicating 25 000 dollars to this task."

Well, that certainly demands further investigation.

"November 29th, 1934
Top Secret (special folder)
Only personally

Politburo of the Central Committee and comrade Stalin.

In July of this year, the famous American physicist N. Tesla contacted comrade Tolokonskiy at our embassy at New York, claiming that, as a result of 30 years of work, he invented a device capable of sending a beam that destroys objects it is directed at. He offers this invention to the Soviet government, as he believes it is the only one that fights for peace, and this device is a method of defense, one that creates peace. Tesla also says that he, as a Slav, has deep sympathy for the success of our "Slavic nation".

Comrade Tolokonskiy found two of our electrical engineers working in America, comrades Smolentsev and Vartanyan (both party members), who met Tesla with the goal of finding out more about his invention.

In the course of the meeting with Tesla, they found out the following:
  1. He discovered a method of splitting matter (steel, mercury, etc) into tiny particles, approaching the size of one molecule.
  2. He discovered a method for applying many millions of volts to this molecule.
  3. Due to the principle of repulsion of like charges, using a voltage of 20 to 50 million volts, he can propel these particles thousands of miles away.
  4. He discovered a method of neutralization of these particles as they exit the device. Having lost their electrical charge, the particles fly through the air at speeds approaching light. This projectile of very small size (about 1 square mm) can destroy any living or mechanical target, and no armour can protect against it.
Tesla refused to supply us with more exact information about his invention. The note that he wrote on Vartanyan's request reveals nothing new. He claims that the system is tested in his laboratory. 

As for the conditions of passing the invention on to us, Tesla told comrades Smolentsev and Vartanyan that he is ready to provide us with a full set of blueprints and technical specifications, as well as the technical data for all processes, at the cost of 25 000 American dollars, to pay his engineers and for other expenses.

After the receipt and investigation of these materials, Tesla is certain that the Soviet government will be convinced of the value of his invention, and when the device is completed, the government will pay him a larger sum, to be determined.

Tesla refuses to go to the USSR, citing his age, but wishes to manage the construction of his device, if it happens. 

According to available data, Tesla was born in 1856 (currently 78 years old), Serbian by nationality. He attained world fame with his work on electric currents. He has patented hundreds of various inventions. In American electrical engineering circles, he is considered one of the most influential inventors, after Edison. 

Tesla's claim is definitely dubious due to being nearly science fiction, but the name Tesla gives it credibility, due to his world famous career. 

Considering the relatively small initial risk, I think it is reasonable to send comrade Sinyavskiy to the USA, along with several electrical scientists, in order to conduct preliminary negotiations and authorize 25 000 dollars from the People's Commissariat of Defense's funds to purchase Tesla's blueprints and specifications for his invention.

  1. Report by American scientist Nikola Tesla titled "Death Ray"
  2. Excerpts from comrade Vartanyan's report.
  3. Article from "Viner Journal" from July 18th, 1934 "At 78 years of age, Tesla invents a new death ray"
  4. New method of obtaining powerful effects at a distance.
K. Voroshilov."

On December 21st, use of 25 000 dollars is authorized (the scanned document above). On December 27th, Voroshilov requests permission to send Sinyavskiy abroad. 

The next document in the series is from Sinyavskiy, dated July 26th, 1935. It is a report from his trip to France and America to complete 4 purchases, one of which was Tesla's device. The relevant portion of the document is:

"I made a deal with Tesla, which states that he must:
  1. Compose a project for the construction of his device.
  2. Give us detailed blueprints and descriptions of aforementioned inventions.
  3. Give us full descriptions and recipes for chemicals used in the construction of the device.
  4. Act as a consultant for the duration of the construction. Tesla can provide this aid through Vartanyan.
  5. The work will be completed 4 months from now.
I paid Tesla 25 000 dollars according to the conclusions of the Politbureau from December 25th. Tesla told us that all theoretical calculations have been made, and the device should work. He could not test it practically, as in the conditions of American reality, it is not possible to do this without a subsidy. Amtorg informed me that Tesla has a personal fortune of approximately 3 million rubles.
1. Tesla's original invention, and his scientific credibility and significant personal experience in the area of energy transmission generate interest in its development. I believe that, by risking 25 000 dollars, we can do something big."


  1. I knew tesla made this offer but never heard about him getting any response.

    Is there anything else on this ?

  2. Sounds suspiciously like a particle beam weapon.

  3. "After Edison"

    Pfff, Edison was the Steve Jobs of his day.

    1. And there's proof for that in the Atomic Robo comics ;)

  4. Even if Teslas calculations and fomula's were correct. The biggest problem would be that Tesla was designing something that is now at the very edge of our current envelope and would have been impossible for Soviets to make into reality.

  5. The ancient greeks could potentially have built a steam engine yet they didn't because their was no real need for it.

    Just because something like that seems incredibly advanced especially considering its time does not make it impossible to achieve.

    look at the moon landing or the night vision article earlier this month.

    even if tesla was making this up i still believe that if you can imagine something your well past the halfway point of making it an reality.

    1. Well, the manufacturing techniques of Antiquity wouldn't really have allowed for too impressive steam engines either...

      Also, leaving aside the detail period tech seriousl wasn't up to the task of building a working "death ray", there's the liiiiiiiittle problem (which Tesla probably couldn't have even known of granted) that particle-beam weapons are AFAIK giant radiation hazards, what with spitting out what amounts to highly charged deep-penetrating sub-atomic particles - and thanks to atmospheric scattering only too prone to lethally irradiating the shooter too.

  6. Tesla was a kook. As I recall he was quite interested in eugenics, and a lot of his (often repeated) claims haven't been independently replicated, even with modern science's much greater understanding of energy, radio waves and so on.

    He was kinda like the Panther or Tiger of early 20th century electrical engineering.

    1. Dude was both a certified genius and plain certifiable, increasingly more the latter the older he got I understand. Funny thing though, as much of wishful thinking as this death ray of his was he seems to have had the basic working concept of a relativistic particle weapon figured out well enough. Not half bad given, besides the timeframe, that AFAIK his ideas of how electricity and stuff worked in the first place were pretty far removed from actual physics as we know them...

  7. btw Tesla was not American,he was Croatian scientist who worked in america

    1. Sorry, but Tesla declared himself as Serb, his father was an ortodox priest etc.

      But as scientist, he made all of his work as an American. That's the fact.

  8. Like many of Tesla's inventions, this sounds like pure science fiction. Maybe he was just trying to bamboozle the gullible Russians out of $25,000, a large sum at the time. It's not possible to accelerate particles of matter to near light speeds, or even close to that, any projectile, no matter how small, quickly erodes away. This is why development of so-call "railgun" weapons has been so difficult. A particle of a cubic millimeter traveling at near light speed would cause an instant massive explosion as soon as it left any weapon. That much energy would be far more dangerous to the operator than any enemy in the context described. There is no practical way to fire unpowered projectiles over "thousands" of mile, unless you're dropping them from orbit, which creates a whole new set of problems. I think Tesla's "death ray" was a pie in the sky. The only practical "beam" weapons even now are based on laser principles, bursts of coherent electromagnetic energy, and so far these have not proven very efficient as weapons.