The World’s First Laser Beam -“Invented to Make War Impossible”


Fast on the heels Flash Gordon, who made his first appearance to the world in a science-fiction comic strip published on January 7, 1934, the frontpage of The New York Times on July 11 blared TESLA, AT 78, BARES NEW 'DEATH BEAM.

Dr. Nicola Tesla, after his demonstration of wireless communication in 1893 and after being the victor in the "War of Currents," was world famous as America's greatest electrical engineer.

With war clouds again darkening Europe, the Times article reported that the new invention "will send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 250 miles…" Tesla stated that the death beam would make war impossible by offering every country an "invisible Chinese wall."

Tesla born in Serbia, inherited from his father a deep hatred of war. Throughout his life, he sought a way to end warfare. He thought that war could be converted into "a mere spectacle of machines."

By 1937 it was clear that war would soon break out in Europe. Frustrated in his attempts to generate interest from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain or secure financing for his "peace beam" from JP Morgan, he sent a detailed technical paper, including diagrams, to a number of Allied nations including the United States, Canada, England, France, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. Titled "New Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-Dispersive Energy Through Natural Media," the paper provided the first technical description of what today is called a charged particle beam weapon.

In 1958 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated a top-secret project code-named "Seesaw" at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to develop a charged-particle beam weapon. More than ten years and twenty-seven million dollars later, the project was abandoned "because of the projected high costs associated with implementation as well as the formidable technical problems associated with propagating a beam through very long ranges in the atmosphere."

Scientists associated with the project had no prior knowledge of Tesla's papers.

Looking back, Tesla's "Death Beam" uncannily anticipated today's lasers, which someday just might save the planet by deflecting future asteroids from impacting Earth. The idea of laser guns is as old as science fiction itself, and like many things that eventually made it into the real world the practical version is a little different from the fantasy.  You can't see laser blasts shooting around the place – for one thing it uses infra-red light, so unless you're the Predator you're out of luck, and for another it turns out that laser beams move at the speed of light.  Who could have guessed?

Posted by Casey Kazan.



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