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Illuminated coils of projector used to create laser light, in 1963
Fritz Goro—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Fans of science-fiction, lasers and guns were probably excited to learn on Wednesday that the U.S. military has successfully tested a laser ray gun. The weapon took many years and tens of millions of dollars to develop, but the future, apparently, is now.

Or maybe not.

Back in 1941, the U.S. government and the National Inventors Council put out a call seeking ideas for new weapons. Nearly 30,000 submissions came in and, as TIME noted back then, some of them were accepted for possible development by the Army and Navy. One of the ones that wasn’t accepted was a plan for a “death-ray gun” by an inventor out of St. Louis, “who landed in the hospital after the gun’s first testing.” Clearly, the 70-plus years that have elapsed between then and now were long enough for the death-ray gun idea to mature — but that wasn’t the only idea on the list of rejected weapons inventions. They included:

On the other hand, who knows what the future may hold?

See the story in its original format, here in the TIME Vault: Crackpot Holiday

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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