“Death Ray” May Outlaw War (Oct, 1936)

“Death Ray” May Outlaw War

A “DEATH RAY” machine is on exhibition at the California Pacific International Exposition being held at San Diego, Calif. It was invented by Prof. Harry May of London, England.

Prof. May feels that his new lethal weapon will be instrumental in outlawing war. He thinks that nations, knowing that such a weapon for quick destruction is available, will hesitate to attack each other.

  1. nlpnt says: March 2, 20087:22 am

    The tech here seems a little too…B-movie, but Prof. May’s idea of its’ use to “outlaw war” sounds remarkably like the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction.

  2. Math-Art says: March 2, 20088:38 am

    He’s apparently right. MAD didn’t come into existence till the cold war though

  3. Firebrand38 says: March 2, 200811:47 am

    No, MAD didn’t “outlaw war” it prevented nuclear war (which it succeeded at).

    This claim was more like when in 1864 Victor Hugo stated that airplanes would make armies “vanish, and with them the whole business of war, exploitation and subjugation”. Also kind of like Richard Gatling writing in 1877 “It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine – a gun – which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished.”

    Professor May was a busy boy that year. He also claimed to have invented voice recognition in a robot http://davidbuckley.net…

  4. Rick Auricchio says: March 2, 200812:01 pm

    The belief that a super-weapon will end war only makes sense when you’re the only party with the weapon.

    As soon as someone else gets the weapon, then both sides begin thinking of preemptive attack.

  5. Firebrand38 says: March 2, 200812:54 pm

    I can’t agree. If history has shown us anything it’s that these superweapons either eventually become just “weapons” (Gatling gun) or the scientific principles that created them are available to everyone with the required technology in which case the monopoly is broken (A & H bombs).

    Preemptive attack is more along the lines of a specific superweapon such as nuclear tipped ballistic missiles being used to attack the other sides nuclear tipped balistic missiles. Trying to apply this model to the Gatling gun shows the fallacy of that argument. Of course this all depends on the definition of a “superweapon”

    More often, we see that when a weapon is created that would make war more terrible than it already is, the weapon itself is banned. Note how after decades of development the major powers stepped away from the use of biological and chemical weapons (real ones not riot control agents).

  6. Firebrand38 says: March 2, 20081:58 pm

    And then there’s the example of Professor Frink:


    Grampa: What the hell is that?
    Frink: Why, it’s a death ray my good man, behold.
    (Frink fires death ray)
    Grampa: Hey, feels warm, kinda nice.
    Frink: Well it’s just a prototype, with proper funding I’m
    confident this little baby could destroy an area the
    size of New York City.
    Grampa: But I want to help people, not kill ’em.
    Frink: Oh, well to be honest, the ray only has evil
    applications. You know my wife will be happy,
    she’s hated this whole death ray thing from day

  7. jayessell says: March 2, 20084:34 pm

    Death Ray? Fiddlesticks!
    It doesn’t even slow them up!


  8. Firebrand38 says: March 2, 20084:48 pm

    Not to a Charles Addams fan!

    For everyone else:

  9. Stannous says: March 2, 20089:34 pm

    What a coincidence (if you believe in such things) tonight’s 60 Minutes ran a story about non-lethal weapons that featured a ray gun:
    “You have to feel the ray gun to believe it,” says 60 Minutes correspondent David Martin, speaking about a non-lethal weapon the Pentagon has developed, “and there’s only one way to do that.”

    Martin was reportedly “zapped” 17 times for this piece, demonstrating the effects, as well as the possibility that a person could reduce the impact with shields of various materials.

    “The gun is really an antenna which shoots out this very high-frequency radio beam that penetrates the skin to a depth of 1/64 of an inch, which is just deep enough to hit the nerves,” says Martin. “And it creates this instantaneous sensation of heat which makes anyone who is hit with it try to get out of the way as fast as possible.

    “And the second you do get out of the way, the pain goes away,” Martin continued. “And the point is that this gun, which has a range of roughly half a mile – the exact range is classified – can make you stop whatever it is you’re doing.”

    It seems that is the intended benefit of this weapon, which Martin says causes the sensation of being scalded with hot water.

    Video here:


  10. jayessell says: March 3, 20085:27 am

    Nice catch Firebrand!
    I had a paperback of those cartoons once.
    Hello eBay!
    Thanks Stannous!
    The interesting bit was The Marines couldn’t get their head around NOT killing.

  11. Firebrand38 says: March 3, 20088:37 am

    Thanks. Actually try going to Amazon and searching for Charles Addams. His estate is still releasing new collections.

  12. Emcha says: March 3, 200810:17 pm

    NDRC (National Defense Research Committee) actually put Dr. Albert F. Murray to investigate various death-ray thingies during World War II. All rays however turned out to be weapons of the non-lethal variety…

  13. jayessell says: March 4, 20089:02 am

    I don’t know Emcha, it looks like it would hurt if it fell on someone.

  14. Emcha says: March 5, 20086:40 am

    Well, what kind of ray that would be then? Hurt-ray or Almost-lethal-if-you-drop-it-on-your-toes-ray? It would never get through!

  15. Harvey s. Johnson says: March 5, 20084:16 pm

    The article is too short and contains little or no conclusive information, except for a picture of the good Doctor…. it would be more useful for readers to hear more about the device I think

  16. Oliver says: March 30, 20084:34 pm

    Prof. Harry May was inherently successful in fulfilling one of the conditions of eliminating war – vis. and to whit, he was the only person with the Death-Ray. Unfortunately, he failed significantly to fulfil the second condition, that which states that it is helpful for any destructive device to work.
    regrettably, the fact that the device closely resembles an English living-room bureaux painted white leads me to suspect that the erstwhile Professor found his way into the pages on the basis of a pub bet…

  17. jayessell says: March 30, 20086:27 pm

    The Death Ray was a staple of the early cinema and action serials.
    There’s one in “The Dancing Masters” with Laurel and Hardy, well after the apex of their careers.
    (More of a lightning gun than a death ray, in my opinion.)

  18. Bill Fanning says: May 22, 20083:21 pm

    There were many death ray claims in the 1920s and ’30s, including one by Nikola Tesla in 1934 (reported in Time Magazine.) Probably the most famous was that of the Englishman Harry Grindell Matthews, who announced his discovery in late 1923 and on into 1924. The Times (London) carried numerous articles about his attempt to interest the British Air Ministry, which did witness a demonstration. Whether to pursue this or not became a cause celebre in Britain, making its way to the floor of the House of Commons. Other newspapers and magazines likewise carried the story. A number of other inventors made similar claims. Dr. T. F. Wall of Sheffield University stated that he had produced a death ray. Frenchmen, Russians, Germans, and Americans all followed suit. Some were competent scientists and technicians; others were charlatans trying to make a fast buck. The interesting thing is that some of these (mostly of the microwave variety) actually worked. Both the popular media and scientific journals from the era attest to people witnessing successful demonstrations. An article in The Fort Worth Star Telegram from 1936 related that an inventor, Henry Fleur, in San Francisco was sued by investors for failing to be prompt in the delivery of his death ray. Charged with fraud, he convinced the judge to reconvene the court at his home. After dispatching a snake, a lizard, and some termites in a matter of minutes with his death ray, the jury acquitted him on the spot. Robert Watson-Watt, the Englishman most associated with the development of radar, related that he had actually been asked by Harry Wimperis of the Air Ministry (who had witnessed a demonstration by Grindell Matthews in 1924) to see if it were possible in 1935 to develop a death ray that could conk out airplane engines and heat up the blood of enemy pilots and kill them. After exhaustive attempts, Watson-Watt and his team gave up. They did notice, however, in the process something that led them to hit on radar. The big problem with the development of the death ray during this era was simply that the effective range was no more than a few feet. The central limiting factor was the lack of technology capable of generating enough energy to project it far enough to be an effective military weapon. One of the comments above mentions A. F. Murray and his work. He was in Division 13 during WW II, and his team was assigned the task of checking out the possibility of death rays, for rumors circulated early on that the Germans had developed one. He and his team reached the same conclusion that all other researchers had: impossible to generate enough energy to project it at the distances required for military effectiveness. Murray related all this in a 1946 article in Time Magazine. There is much more on this topic, most of which is in the journals, magazines, and newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s. I am currently working on a book that will include an examination of strange and exotic weapons portrayed in the popular media during this time. One chapter is on death rays.

  19. jayessell says: May 22, 20084:48 pm

    Bill: Let us know when your book is available!

  20. Charlie says: May 22, 20085:57 pm

    Wow, thanks for the great info Bill!

  21. logic says: December 12, 20086:05 pm

    This guy is an idiot! Of ocurse this isnt going to stop war. I mean, listen to how stupid this sounds. “Im going to create a terrible weapon to frighten people into peace” Seriously?? NO. Years ago we used rocks and sticks. To them, the atom bonb would be unimaginably destructive. And we’ve used that haven’t we? A while back we used guns that could shoot 3 bullet per minute. Now we can shoot 500 per minute. Making weapons more dangerous won’t suddenly end war.

  22. jayessell says: December 12, 200810:28 pm

    I think a suitably clever super-villain or anti-hero could threaten the destruction of a random city of any nation involved in warfare.
    I’m looking at YOU Sudan!
    The impossible part is, as seen in pulp fantasy stories of the 1930s, one group would have to have an improbably large technological advantage in several fields over every other nation in the world.
    The equivalent of having a monopoly on jets and atom bombs and surveillance satellites in the 1880s.
    (Captain Nemo approves!)
    Also, once established, this ‘Peace Force’ would have to suppress the development of aviation and nuclear energy by everyone else!
    The film version of H.G. Wells’ ‘The Shape of Things to Come” had ‘Wings Over the World’.
    (A self appointed Peace Keeping Army-Air Force. They had technology while the rest of the world had slipped back into a second dark ages.)
    In Afghanistan we see having a technological edge is barely effective in imposing peace.
    (Short of nuking it border to border.)

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