Nikola Tesla was, of course, a vastly accomplished scientist and inventor. His inventions include the Tesla coil and electric oscillators, and he also developed technologies that were eventually found in X-rays, the radio, and remote controls.
One thing he didn’t invent: A death ray. But try telling that to the Governor Clinton Hotel.
Tesla had financial problems later in life, and in 1915, his famous Wardenclyffe tower plant was sold to help pay off his $20,000 debt at the Waldorf-Astoria. By the 1930s, Tesla had again racked up a sizable bill at a hotel, this time the Governor Clinton Hotel in Manhattan. He couldn’t afford the payment, so instead, Tesla offered the management something priceless: one of his inventions. He told them the device—which he referred to as a death beam, not a death ray—was extremely dangerous, and could detonate if someone opened it without taking the proper precautions.
When Tesla died in 1943, an MIT scientist working for the National Defense Research Committee was sent to Tesla’s hotel room/lab to retrieve the potentially deadly weapon. John G. Trump (uncle of the 45th president) later wrote that he took time to reflect upon his life before he opened the container.
He shouldn’t have bothered.
The only thing the wooden chest contained was a “multidecade resistance box of the type used for a Wheatstone bridge resistance measurements—a common standard item found in every electric laboratory before the turn of the century!”
In other words, Tesla threw some common electrical components in a fancy-looking box and convinced everyone it was a "death beam" worth $10,000. Tesla’s good friend, Mark Twain, would have been proud.
This story originally ran in 2015.