Tesla’s mysterious box

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 IOP RESOURCES

Towards the end of his life, the prolific American-Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla claimed to have invented a particle beam or “death ray” weapon. Short of money and facing a $400 bill from the Governor Clinton Hotel in New York, he offered a working model of the weapon as collateral for the debt. He delivered the model in a locked case and cautioned that the box would explode if opened by an unauthorised person. Intimidated by the eccentric scientist’s warning, the hotel staff stored the unopened box in the hotel vault.

In 1943, when Tesla was found dead in his hotel room, the FBI asked John Trump (see above) to analyse his papers. Finding nothing of value in Tesla’s writing, the investigators’ interest turned to the mysterious box in the hotel vault.

After the disappointment of Tesla’s papers, the possibility that a previously unknown death ray was hidden in the storage vault of a New York hotel was startling. As Trump went to cut the brown paper wrapping the mysterious box, the FBI agents accompanying him withdrew from the vault…

Anticlimactically, the box contained a wooden chest with a brass-hinged lid that held only a Wheatstone bridge.


Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today