5 World-Renowned Experts Who Were Just Straight-Up Crackpots

5 World-Renowned Experts Who Were Just Straight-Up Crackpots
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Selling snake oil is hard work these days. It's no longer viable to just haul your wagon from town to town, staying ahead of your bad reputation long enough to bamboozle the yokels into buying turpentine-and-cocaine cocktails. Now there are journalists and politicians and internet detectives who can easily track your every move and expose every shady thing you've ever done, said, or tweeted. But every once in a while, some charming nutjob still manages to spin it all to their favor, recruiting millions to their side in the war on common sense. For example ...

The term "mad scientist" gets thrown around a lot these days, but there's no better way to describe Harry Grindell Matthews. Matthews wore an eye patch and a long black coat, and lived in an isolated compound in the Welsh hills, guarded by electric fences and barbed wire. What was he doing up there? What else would a mad scientist do up there? He was building a death ray.

Spoiler alert: Death rays weren't invented in the 1920s. We know this because we're not currently working in the laser-mines of Immortal Emperor Matthews. But people were quick to trust ol' One-Eye McDeathray, mostly because he'd built an impressive crazy genius resume. He had invented a radio-controlled boat, a way to detect underwater submarines, and the "aerophone" -- an honest-to-god cellphone in 1909! He had also been the first man in the UK to transmit his voice via radio wave. So when Matthews claimed he had invented a powerful, invisible ray weapon in 1924 -- so powerful that its activation put his assistant into a coma for 24 hours -- people figured that it, much like Matthews himself, was just crazy enough to work.

Matthews had a well-honed demonstration too, including bits where he stopped a motorcycle engine and even killed a mouse at short range with his ray. With the right funding, the scientist claimed, he could make his death ray powerful enough to destroy airplane engines mid-flight, or even "annihilate" entire armies and cities. And because headlines with the words "death ray" in them sell about a bajillion copies, publications like The New York Times, Time, Le Matin, Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science Monthly all heralded the loony Englishman as the greatest genius to have ever lived. This, in turn, drew the attention of the British military, including Sir Winston Churchill himself, who wanted to see what this war-winning weapon could do.


5 World-Renowned Experts Who Were Just Straight-Up Crackpots

Selling snake oil is hard work these days. It’s no longer viable to just haul your wagon from town to town, staying ahead of your bad reputation long enough to bamboozle the yokels into buying turpentine-and-cocaine cocktails. Now there are journalists and politicians and internet detectives who can easily track your every move and expose every shady thing you’ve ever done, said, or tweeted. But every once in a while, some charming nutjob still manages to spin it all to their favor, recruiting millions to their side in the war on common sense. For example … The term “mad scientist” gets thrown around a lot these days, but there’s no better way to describe Harry Grindell Matthews . Matthews […]

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