New York Herald Tribune — July 11, 1934
Death Ray Also Available as Power Agent in Peace Times, Inventor Declares
By Joseph W. Alsop, Jr.
Dr. Nikola Tesla, inventor of polyphase electric current, pioneer in high frequency transmission, predecessor of Marconi with the wireless, celebrated his seventy-eighth birthday yesterday by announcing his invention of a beam of force somewhat similar to the death ray of scientific romance.
It is capable, he believes, of destroying an army 200 miles away; it can bring down an airplane like a duck on the wing, and it can penetrate all but the most enormous thicknesses of armor plate. Since it must be generated at stationary power plants by machines which involve four electrical devices of the most revolutionary sort, Dr. Tesla considers it almost wholly a defensive weapon. In peace times, he says, the beam will also be used to transmit immense voltages of power over distances limited only by the curvature of the earth.
As an hors d'oeuvre to this Jules Vernean announcement, Dr. Tesla disclosed that he has lately perfected instruments which flatly disprove the present theory of the high physicists that the sun is destined to burn itself out until it is a cold cinder floating in space. Dr. Tesla stated that he is able to show that all the suns in the universe are constantly growing in mass and heat, so that the ultimate fate of each is explosion.
Dr. Tesla refused to describe specifically the instruments in question in both discoveries, or even to disclose the principles upon which they are built. He said that at some date soon he expected to make the full details public in scientific journals or before scientific bodies. Since he considers the beam of force a defensive and therefore a pacifist weapon, he hopes to be able to present it in full for the first time at the disarmament conference at Geneva. He also said that minor parts of each of the discoveries are still in the theoretical, or blueprint stage, but he pointed out that his method of work has almost always been purely mental.
The aging inventor, a tall, thin, almost spiritual figure in the sort of brown cutaway suit that older men wore before the World War, received interviewers in one of the public rooms in the Hotel New Yorker, where he lives. Before he would speak of his present work he reviewed his past achievements, which entitle him more than Edison, Steinmetz or any other, to be called the father of the power age. He has 700 patents to his credit and not a few of them are for epoch-making discoveries, but over and over again he has been ridiculed as a lunatic. He recalled this and his work together as if to prepare the way for his announcements.
He came to the idea of a beam of force, he said, because of his belief that no weapon has ever been found that is not as successful offensively as defensively. The perfect weapon of defense, he felt, would be a frontier wall, impenetrable and :extending up to the limits of the atmosphere of the earth.
Creates Rays in Free Air
Such a wall, he believes, is provided by his beam of force. It is produced by a combination of four electrical methods or apparatuses. First and most important is a mechanism for producing rays and other energy manifestations in free air. Hitherto vacuum tubes have always been necessary. Second is an apparatus for producing unheard-of quantities of electrical current and for controlling it when produced. The current is necessary as power for the first mechanism. Without this, no rays of sufficient strength could be produced. The third is a method of intensifying and amplifying the second process, and the fourth is a method of producing "tremendous electrical repellent force."
"These four inventions in combination enable man to loose in free air forces beyond conception;" Dr. Tesla remarked mildly. "By scientific application we can project destructive energy in thread-like beams as far as a telescope can discern .an object. The range of the beams is only limited by the curvature of the earth. Should you launch an attack in an area covered by these beams, should you, say, send in 10,000 planes or an army of a million, the planes would be brought down instantly and the army destroyed.
"The plane is thus absolutely eliminated as a weapon; it is confined to commerce. And a country's whole frontier can be protected by one of the plants producing these beams every 200 miles. Nor should they be much more costly than an ordinary power plant."
It Is an Electric Gun
The beam of force itself, as Dr. Tesla described it, is a concentrated current - it need be no thicker than a pencil - of microscopic particles moving at several hundred times the speed of artillery projectiles. The machine into which Dr. Tesla combines his four devices is, in reality, a sort of electrical gun.
He illustrated the sort of thing that the particles will be by recalling an incident that occurred often enough when he was experimenting with a cathode tube. Then, sometimes, a particle larger than an electron, but still very tiny, would break off from the cathode, pass out of the tube and hit him. He said he could feel a sharp, stinging pain where it entered his body, and again at the place where it passed out. The particles in the beam of force, ammunition which the operators of .the generating machine will have to supply, will travel far faster than such particles as broke off from the cathode, and they will travel in concentrations, he said.
As Dr. Tesla explained it, the tremendous speed of the particles will give them their destruction-dealing qualities. All but the thickest armored surfaces confronting them would be melted through in an instant by the heat generated in the concussion.
Some Parts Still Unmade
Such beams or rays of particles now known to science are composed always of fragments of atoms, whereas, according to Dr. Tesla, his would be of microscopic dust of a suitable sort. The chief differentation between his and the present rays would appear to be, however, that his are produced in free air instead of in a vacuum tube. The vacuum tube rays have been projected out into the air, but there they travel only a few inches, and they are capable only of causing burns or slight disintegration of objects which they strike.
Dr. Tesla declared that the two most important of the four devices involved in his force beam generator, the mechanism for producing rays in free air and the mechanism for producing great quantities of electrical current had both been constructed and demonstrated by actual experiments. The two intensifying and amplifying apparatuses are not yet in existence but he displayed the most perfect confidence that when they are, they will work as he expects them to do.
"These effects," he said, "are of the kind that can be calculated with the most positive accuracy. Like many other things I have done they require no previous experiment once they are properly conceived. There are a few details to be finished - my calculation might be perhaps 10 per cent off at present - and then the whole thing will be presented to the world. It has always been my practice to give the world a sort of preview of what I am doing so that a reception is prepared."
"I should also say, and this is perhaps as important as anything else about it, that in this apparatus all limitations as to electric force and the quantity of electricity transmitted have been removed."
It was evident that Dr. Tesla's work on the force beam as a peace-time means of power transmission was far less advanced than his work on it as a defensive weapon. He did not describe the nature of the receiver which will transform the force beam into useful power, though he declared that he had designed one, nor was he able to show just how the dangers of having such death-dealing but invisible beams traveling through the air could be surmounted.
Dr. Tesla was far less definite in his description of the experiments which led to his revolutionary prediction of the future of the sun and its system than he was when talking of the force beam. He had, he said, detected "certain motions in the medium that fills space, and measured the effects of these motions." The results of the experiments had led his "inescapably" to the conclusion that such bodies as the sun are taking on mass much more rapidly than they are dissipating it by the dissipation of energy in heat and light.
"Heat to Kill All Peoples"
He pointed out that his theory means a future for the earth as different from the general belief as the future of the sun. It is generally held that life on the earth will cease when the sun grows so cold that the earth temperature drops to a point where life can no longer be supported. Dr. Tesla prophesies that life on the earth will cease because the planet will grow too warm to support life, and he believes that life will then begin on outer planets now too cold. He said that his discovery not only allowed him to predict a very different future for the heavenly bodies from that now generally expected for them, but also to calculate in a new way their age.
Nor were these two discoveries, of a force beam and a new future for the universe, the only new things Dr. Tesla had to offer. The completely new and unlimited source of energy which he stated he was at work on is, he said, still under examination by him. Since he first spoke of it great strides have been made, and the complete announcement of it is to be expected in a comparatively short time.
Finally there was the electric :bath. The idea of a bath of electricity to cleanse the person far more completely than water ever could has always been at the back of Dr. Tesla's mind. Many years ago he built a machine which performed the function successfully, but, because it cost too much and was not without its dangers, he dropped it as impractical. Lately he has improved it so much that he feels it is now fit for general use.
Works Twenty Hours Daily
"You may think this is a lot of work for an old man like me to have on his hands," he said with a little smile. "You may think I have too many big things - I have told you three - on my hands. But I have worked for sixty years now, and I have such a store of ideas that I can see clearly. I have concentrated on my subject. My brain works better now than it ever did when I was a young man. I am capable of far more than I was in what they call 'your prime."
He smiled again. The white, parchmenty skin, drawn tight over a finely built bony structure, creased round his eyes and mouth. He admitted to being a little thinner than last year, but, he explained, every one dries up, as time goes on, and there is nothing in being thin that can interfere with work.
He was asked a question about birthday celebrations and congratulations. He had received congratulations from all over the world, he said, but the one which pleased him most was from his sister in Jugoslavia, Mrs. Marica Kosanovic, who is three years younger than he and "the smartest in all our family." He talked for a while of his family, recalling all the inventors there were - five recorded - and students in his ancestry.
"As for celebration," he added, "my only celebration is a little work, and these small disclosures of results."