We've told you all about our favorite rayguns, blasters, flechette pistols, and laser guns before, but where did they all come from? Laser pistols are as identifiable with science fiction as rocketships, aliens, and robots, even though the first laser wasn't invented until 1960. So what spurred science fiction writers to start arming their characters with atomic blasters and disintegrator rays?
- One of the first examples of anything resembling a raygun was the Heat-Ray from H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, published in 1898.
- While the term Heat-Ray actually referred to the beam the weapon fired, and not the weapon itself, it behaved like a modern day laser and incinerated everything it touched.
- The beam was invisible in the novel, and was described as an intense beam of heat that was generated in a chamber and then focused using a parabolic mirror.
- In the subsequent films, the Martians Heat-Ray was shown as a laser with a visible beam, and in Spielberg's version it only vaporized people and not their clothes. Handy if you needed to stock up on a wardrobe quickly.
- Not long after The War of the Worlds, directed-energy weapons began appearing in pulp fiction novels and comics like Buck Rogers. In fact, toys based on the "disintegrator ray" from Buck Rogers were all the rage in the 1930s. These sparking tin toys are worth big bucks today.
- Oddly enough, the disintegrator ray didn't first appear in Buck Rogers. It was actually in Edison's Conquest of Mars which was published in 1898 as an unauthorized sequel to War of the Worlds by Garrett Serviss.
- Likewise, Star Wars wasn't the first science fiction property to call a laser gun a "blaster," that dates back to Nictzin Dyalhis' When the Green Star Waned in 1925.
- Lightsabers were also pre-dated in science fiction, first appearing as "force field blades" in 1952 in Isaac Asimov's David Starr, Space Ranger.
- Later in life, scientist Nikola Tesla was purported to have invented a massive "death ray" or "peace beam" that he wanted to use to end all wars. He tried selling it to the U.S. government without success.
- During World War II, the Nazis tried to develop Wunderwaffen, or "wonder weapons," that would end the war early. They experimented with sonic weapons that had effects similar to directed-beam laser weapons, but were never able to mass produce them. Lucky for us.
- The 1950s and 1960s saw an explosion of space-themed toys, and chief among them were laser pistols and atomic rayguns. There were a huge amount of these produced, based off of movies and books, like the blasters from 1956's Forbidden Planet or the Atomic Disintegrator Rays from 1959's Teenagers from Outer Space.
- By the time Star Trek appeared in 1966, lasers were already five years old and Gene Roddenberry worried that they'd be considered old hat by then. So he added many different abilities to the phasers, like the ability to have them weld doors shut, cut holes in objects, blow up like grenades, and store power like batteries. In fact, in the episode "The Galileo Seven," Scotty transfers power from a bank of stored phaser pistols into the shuttlecraft engines. Of course, for Scotty, that's pretty par for the course.
- Since their first appearance, laser guns have been broken down into different categories like particle beam weapons, directed energy weapons, plasma weapons, and beam guns. However, they're all still good ol' laser guns in our minds. Although their have been some attempts to make real-life laser guns, like the Active Denial System which is basically a giant microwave beam mounted like a cannon. Check out a video of it in action below. Ouch.
- If you're in the market for replica laser guns, you can make your own, pick some up on eBay, or even purchase one of the high-priced artisan versions from WETA, known as Dr. Grordbort's Infallible Aether Oscillators. While they'll set you back a few bucks, they are also some of the coolest fictional guns you can purchase. They come in finely crafted velvet-lined cases, have complete backstories, and look pretty damned cool. Of course, the company that makes them specializes in producing effects and costumes for movies, so what would you expect?