Lot 64
  • 64

[DEATH RAY]

Estimate
4,000 - 6,000 USD
Sold
4,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • "Death Ray" Discovered!  New York: Artwin Service Corp, ca 1920.
  • paper, ink
Broadside (26 x 19 in. to sight). Creases where previously folded, some light toning and crinkling to edges. Matted, glazed, and framed to 32½ x 25½ in. WITH: Typed letter signed "C.C. Bloch" from Rear Admiral C.C. Bloch of the US Navy, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance to Dr. W.R. Whitney, Director of the General Electric Research Laboratory of General Electric in New York. 1 page (8 x 10½ in.) on Navy Department, Bureau of Ordnance letterhead stamped "Confidential" in red, May 27, 1924. Together with carbon copy Dr. Whitney's Response.

Literature

Illustrated in: Corn, Joseph & Brian Horrigan. Yesterday's Tomorrows. Past visions of the American Future. New York: Summit Books for the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service, 1984, p. 115

Catalogue Note

The "Death Ray" was a theoretical electromagnetic or particle beam weapon of the 1920s and 1930s. Nikola Tesla, Harry Grindell Matthews, Guglielmo Marconi and several others all claimed to have independently invented this spectacular weapon. The great H.G. Wells is credited with being the first to have imagined it however, placing the "Death Ray" in the hands of the invading Martians in his 1898 War of the Worlds. His terrifying weapon was likely inspired by the discovery of X-Rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895 (for which he was awarded the very first Nobel prize in Physics).

This broadside captures the international fear and excitement ignited by the weapon, which many thought to be real thanks in large part to sensational accounts in the press. It depicts the inventor Harry Grindell Matthews shooting down an aeroplane with the "Death Ray" while J[ohn] Bull (as the personification of the UK), Uncle Sam, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Germany look on in astonishment.  

Rumors of the existence of the "Death Ray" swirled around for nearly two decades, and in the tense years following WWI, countries were keen to find technological advancements to improve their weaponry. Paranoia surrounding its development was at a peak in the interim years, and while the invention seemed very much like something straight out of science fiction, no country could afford to assume that another had not already developed it. This paranoia is perfectly evidenced in the accompanying letter sent from Rear Admiral C.C. Bloch of the US Navy to Dr. Whitney, head of the research lab at General Electric. In part:

"I have been much interested, and to some degree concerned, in the various press reports concerning the development abroad in several countries of a so-called "death-dealing ray ... I should be very glad to know if you have received any information beyond that published in the press as to the value of this device and as to its method of operation ... I feel that, even allowing for newspaper exaggeration, the subject may be too important for us to neglect."

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