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USS Eldridge (DE-173) ca. 1944

The Philadelphia Experiment was a naval military experiment alleged to have been carried out at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA sometime around October 28, 1943. The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Eldridge was claimed to be rendered invisible (or "cloaked") to enemy devices.

The story is thought to be a hoax.[1][2][3] The U.S. Navy maintains that no such experiment was ever conducted, and details of the story contradict well-established facts about the Eldridge itself, as well as commonly accepted physics.[4]


Note: Several different and sometimes contradictory versions of the alleged experiment have circulated over the years. The following synopsis illustrates key story points common to most accounts.[2]

The experiment was allegedly based on an aspect of the unified field theory, a term coined by Albert Einstein.[citation needed] The Unified Field Theory aims to describe mathematically and physically the interrelated nature of the forces that comprise electromagnetic radiation and gravity, in other words uniting the fields of electromagnetism and gravity into one field. Consequently, if light were bent, then space-time would be bent, effectively creating an invisible time machine.[citation needed]

According to the accounts, unspecified 'researchers' thought that some version of this Unified Field Theory would enable a person to use large electrical generators to bend light around an object via refractioon, so that the object became completely invisible. The Navy would have regarded this as being of obvious military value, and by the accounts, it sponsored the experiment.

Another unattributed version of the story proposes that researchers were preparing magnetic and gravitational measurements of the seafloor to detect anomalies, supposedly based on Einstein's attempts to understand gravity. In this version, there were also related secret experiments in Nazi Germany to find antigravity, allegedly led by SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Kammler.[citation needed]

There are no reliable, attributable accounts but in most accounts of the experiment, the destroyer escort USS Eldridge was fitted with the required equipment at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. Testing allegedly began in the summer of 1943, and it was supposedly successful to a limited degree. One test allegedly resulted in the Eldridge being rendered almost completely invisible, with some witnesses[citation needed] reporting a "greenish fog" appearing in its place. Crew members supposedly complained of severe nausea afterwards. Also, it is said[citation needed] that when the ship reappeared, some sailors were embedded in the metal structures of the ship, including one sailor who ended up on a deck level below that where he began, and had his hand embedded in the steel hull of the ship, as well as some sailors who went "completely bananas".[5] At that point, it is said[citation needed] that the experiment was altered at the request of the Navy, with the new objective being solely to render the Eldridge invisible to radar. None of these allegations has been independently substantiated.

The conjecture then alleges that the equipment was not properly re-calibrated, but in spite of this, the experiment was repeated on October 28, 1943. This time, the Eldridge not only became invisible, but she physically vanished from the area in a flash of blue light and teleported to Norfolk, Virginia, over 200 miles (320 km) away. It is claimed that the Eldridge sat for some time in full view of men aboard the ship SS Andrew Furuseth, whereupon the Eldridge vanished from their sight, and then reappeared in Philadelphia at the site it had originally occupied. It was also said that the warship went approximately 10 seconds back in time.[citation needed]

Many versions of the tale include descriptions of serious side effects for the crew.[citation needed] Some crew members were said to have been physically fused to bulkheads, while others suffered from mental disorders, and still others supposedly simply vanished.[citation needed] It is also claimed that the ship's crew may have been subjected to brainwashing, in order to maintain the secrecy of the experiment.[citation needed]

Origins of the story

Morris Jessup and Carlos Miguel Allende

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In 1955, Morris K. Jessup, an astronomer and former graduate-level researcher, published The Case for the UFO, a book about unidentified flying objects that contains some theories about the different means of propulsion that flying-saucer-style UFOs might use. Jessup speculated that antigravity, or the manipulation of electromagnetism, might be responsible for the observed flight behavior of UFOs. He lamented, both in the book and during the publicity tour that followed, that space flight research was concentrated in the area of rocketry, and that little attention had been paid to other theoretical means of flight, which he felt might ultimately be more fruitful. Jessup emphasized that a breakthrough revision of Albert Einstein's "Unified Field Theory" would be critical in powering a future generation of spacecraft.

On January 13, 1955, Jessup received a letter from a man who identified himself as one "Carlos Allende." In the letter, Allende informed Jessup of the "Philadelphia Experiment," alluding to two poorly sourced contemporary newspaper articles as proof. Allende directly responded to Jessup's call for research on the "Unified Field Theory," which he referred to as "UFT." According to Allende, Einstein had developed the theory, but had suppressed it, since mankind was not ready for it—a confession that the scientist allegedly shared with the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Allende also said that he had witnessed the Eldridge appear and disappear while serving aboard the SS Andrew Furuseth, a nearby merchant ship. Allende named other crew members with whom he served aboard the Andrew Furuseth, and claimed to know the fate of some of the crew members of the Eldridge after the experiment, including one whom he witnessed disappearing during a chaotic fight in a bar. Although Allende claimed to have observed the experiment while on the Andrew Furuseth, he provided no substantiation of his other claims linking the experiment with the Unified Field Theory, no evidence of Einstein's alleged theory, and no proof of Einstein's alleged private confession to Russell.

Jessup replied to Allende by a postcard, asking for further evidence and corroboration. The reply arrived months later, with the correspondent identifying himself as "Carl M. Allen." Allen said that he could not provide the details for which Jessup was asking, but he implied that he might be able to recall some by means of hypnosis. Suspecting that Allende/Allen might be an impostor, Jessup discontinued the correspondence.

The Office of Naval Research and the Varo annotation

According to a 2002 book by the popular writers James Moseley and Karl Pflock, in early 1957, Jessup was contacted by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Washington, D.C., and was asked to study the contents of a parcel that it had received.[6] Upon his arrival, Jessup was surprised to learn that a paperback copy of his UFO book had been mailed to the ONR in a manila envelope marked "Happy Easter." The book had been extensively annotated in its margins, and an ONR officer asked Jessup if he had any idea as to who had done so.

Moseley and Pflock claim that the lengthy annotations were written with three different shades of pink ink, and they appeared to detail a correspondence among three individuals, only one of which is given a name: "Jemi." The ONR labelled the other two "Mr A." and "Mr B." The annotators refer to each other as "Gypsies," and discuss two different types of "people" living in outer space. Their text contained non-standard use of capitalization and punctuation, and detailed a lengthy discussion of the merits of various elements of Jessup's assumptions in the book. Their oblique references to the Philadelphia Experiment suggested prior or superior knowledge. (One example is that "Mr B." reassures his fellow annotators who have highlighted a certain theory which Jessup advanced.)[6]

Based on the handwriting style and subject matter, Jessup identified "Mr A." as Allende / Allen. Others have suggested that the three annotations are from the same person, using three pens.[citation needed] The annotated book supposedly sparked sufficient interest for the ONR to fund a small printing of the volume by the Texas-based Varo Manufacturing Company.[7] A 2003 transcription of the annotated "Varo edition" is available online, complete with three-color notes.[8]

Later, the ONR contacted Jessup, claiming that the return address on Allende's letter to Jessup was an abandoned farmhouse. They also informed Jessup that the Varo Corporation, a research firm, was preparing a print copy of the annotated version of The Case for the UFO, complete with both letters he had received. About a hundred copies of the Varo Edition were printed and distributed within the Navy. Jessup was also sent three for his own use.

Jessup attempted to make a living writing on the topic, but his follow-up book did not sell well. His publisher rejected several other manuscripts. In 1958, his wife left him, and his friends described him as being depressed and somewhat unstable when he traveled to New York. After returning to Florida, he was involved in a serious car accident and was slow to recover, which added to his depression. He was found dead on April 20, 1959, and the death was ruled a suicide.[citation needed]

Misunderstanding of documented naval experiments

While personnel at the Fourth Naval District have suggested that the questions surrounding the alleged event arise from routine research which was performed during the Second World War at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, it was previously believed "that the foundation for the apocryphal stories arose from degaussing experiments which have the effect of making a ship undetectable or 'invisible' to magnetic mines."[9] Another possible genesis of the stories about levitation, teleportation and effects on human crew might be attributed to experiments with the generating plant of the destroyer USS Timmerman, whereby a higher-frequency generator produced corona discharges, though none of the crew reported suffering effects from the experiment.[9]

Repetitions of the story

There have been non-fiction and fictional accounts of the legend:

In 1963, Vincent Gaddis published a book of Forteana titled Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea. In it he recounted the story of the experiment from the Varo annotation.

George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger published a 1978 novel titled Thin Air. In this book, set in the present day, a Naval Investigative Service officer investigates several threads linking wartime invisibility experiments to a conspiracy involving matter transmission technology.

In 1979, the linguist Charles Berlitz and his co-author ufologist William L. Moore published The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility, which purported to be a factual account. Moore's by-line said that he had written the book "in consultation with" Berlitz.

More recently, Simon R. Green included references to "The Philadelphia Experiment" in his book The Spy Who Haunted Me, while Paul Violette's book Secrets of Anti-Gravity Propulsion recounts some mysterious involvement of the physicist Thomas Townsend Brown of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. (Moore and Berlitz devoted one of the last chapters in The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility to "The Force Fields Of Townsend Brown.")

Hollywood interpretation and the Bielek testimony

In 1984, the story was adapted into a time travel film called The Philadelphia Experiment directed by Stewart Raffill. Though only loosely based on the prior accounts of the "Experiment," it served to dramatize the core elements of the original story. In 1990, Alfred Bielek,[10][11] a self-proclaimed former crew-member of the USS Eldridge and an alleged witness of the "Experiment," supported the version as it was portrayed in the film. He added details of his claims through the Internet, some of which were picked up by mainstream outlets.[12]

In 2003, a small team of investigators, including the American Marshall Barnes, the Canadian Fred Houpt, and the German Gerold Schelm, rejected Bielek's story of his participation in "The Philadelphia Experiment." Their consensus was that Bielek was nowhere near the ship at the proposed time of the experiment.[12]

The horror/action movie Outpost, in which the Nazi Germans were supposedly conducting similar tests on soldiers, has a reference to the "Philadelphia Experiment."

The 2008 science fiction 100 Million BC has a clear reference to "The Philadelphia Experiment" or "The Rainbow Project."[13]

The 2013 movie Devil's Pass has many references to "The Philadelphia Experiment", including showing alleged photos of the crew members fused to the hull of USS Eldridge.

Evidence and research

Observers have argued that it is inappropriate to grant much credence to an unusual story promoted by one individual, in the absence of more conclusive corroborating evidence. Robert Goerman wrote in Fate magazine in 1980, that "Carlos Allende" / "Carl Allen" was Carl Meredith Allen of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, who had an established history of psychiatric illness, and who may have fabricated the primary history of the experiment as a result of his mental illness. Goerman later realized that Allen was a family friend and "a creative and imaginative loner... sending bizarre writings and claims."[14]

The historian Mike Dash[2] notes that many authors who publicized the "Philadelphia Experiment" story after that of Jessup appeared to have conducted little or no research of their own: through the late 1970s, for example, Allende/Allen was often described as mysterious and difficult to locate. But Goerman determined Allende/Allen's identity after only a few telephone calls. Others speculate that much of the key literature emphasizes dramatic embellishment rather than pertinent research. Berlitz's and Moore's account of the story (The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility) claimed to include supposedly factual information, such as transcripts of an interview with a scientist involved in the experiment, but their work has also been criticized for plagiarising key story elements from the novel Thin Air which was published a year earlier.

Scientific aspects

The claims of "The Philadelphia Experiment" contradict the currently known laws of physics. While Einstein's theory of general relativity shows that light waves can be bent near the surface of an extremely massive object, such as the sun or a black hole, current technology could not manipulate the astronomical amounts of matter needed to do this.

No Unified Field Theory currently exists, although it is a subject of ongoing research. William L. Moore claimed in his book on "The Philadelphia Experiment" that Albert Einstein completed, and destroyed, a theory before his death. This is not supported by historians and scientists familiar with Einstein's work. Moore bases his theory on Carl Allen's letter to Jessup, in which Allen refers to a conversation between Einstein and Bertrand Russell acknowledging that the theory had been solved, but that man was not ready for it.[15]

Shortly before his death in 1943, the Serbian-American inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla was said to have completed some kind of a "Unified Field Theory" .[16] The 2006 movie The Prestige makes reference to this claim with a device powered by a large Tesla coil that is created by Tesla himself, to make things disappear, but instead creates an exact replica that comes into being a short distance away.

These claims are completely at odds with modern physics as it is currently understood. While it is true that Einstein attempted to unify gravity with electromagnetism based on classical physics, his geometric approaches, called classical unified field theories, ignored the modern developments of quantum theory and the discovery of the strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. Einstein collaborated with other physicists to discuss the possibilities of unified field theory, but to this day is considered unsuccessful.[17] The attempts made by recent scientists to develop a unified theory have focused on the development of a quantum theory that also includes gravitation.

While very limited "invisibility cloaks" have recently been developed using metamaterial,[18] these are unrelated to theories linking electromagnetism with gravity.

Timeline inconsistencies

The USS Eldridge was not commissioned until August 27, 1943, and it remained in port in New York City until September 1943. The October experiment allegedly took place while the ship was on its first shakedown cruise in the Bahamas, although proponents of the story claim that the ship's logs might have been falsified, or else still be classified.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) stated in September 1996, "ONR has never conducted investigations on radar invisibility, either in 1943 or at any other time." Pointing out that the ONR was not established until 1946, it denounces the accounts of "The Philadelphia Experiment" as complete "science fiction".

A reunion of navy veterans who had served aboard the USS Eldridge told a Philadelphia newspaper in April 1999 that their ship had never made port in Philadelphia.[19] Further evidence discounting the Philadelphia Experiment timeline comes from the USS Eldridge’s complete World War II action report, including the remarks section of the 1943 deck log, available on microfilm.[4]

Alternative explanations

Researcher Jacques Vallée[20] describes a procedure on board the USS Engstrom (DE-50), which was docked alongside the Eldridge in 1943. The operation involved the generation of a powerful electromagnetic field on board the ship in order to deperm or degauss it, with the goal of rendering the ship undetectable or "invisible" to magnetically fused undersea mines and torpedoes. This system was invented by a Canadian, Charles F. Goodeve, when he held the rank of commander in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, and the Royal Navy and other navies used it widely during WWII. British ships of the era often included such degaussing systems built into the upper decks (the conduits are still visible on the deck of HMS Belfast (C35) in London, for example). Degaussing is still used today. However, it has absolutely no effect on visible light or radar. Vallée speculates that accounts of the USS Engstrom’s degaussing might have been garbled and confabulated in subsequent retellings, and that these accounts may have influenced the story of "The Philadelphia Experiment."

According to Vallée, a Navy veteran who served on board the USS Engstrom noted that the Eldridge might indeed have travelled from Philadelphia to Norfolk and back again in a single day at a time when merchant ships could not: by use of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and the Chesapeake Bay, which at the time was open only to naval vessels.[20] Use of that channel was kept quiet: German submarines had ravaged shipping along the East Coast during Operation Drumbeat, and thus military ships unable to protect themselves were secretly moved via canals to avoid the threat.[21] This same veteran claims to be the man that Allende witnessed “disappearing” at a bar. He claims that when the fight broke out, friendly barmaids whisked him out the back door of the bar before the police arrived, because he was under age for drinking. They then covered for him by claiming that he had disappeared.[21]

In popular culture

  • References to the experiment can be found in many other works, including an episode of The X-Files titled "Død Kalm", Sanctuary, The Triangle, the Doctor Who audio drama The Macros, the collaborative science-fiction novella Green Fire by Eileen Gunn, writer, writer, and Michael Swanwick.
  • The experiment is the subject of the science fiction film The Philadelphia Experiment. The film highlights the time travel aspects of the urban legend.
  • The computer game Command & Conquer: Red Alert references this in a video regarding the Allied Chronosphere, in which footage is shown of a ship disappearing then reappearing seconds later. One of the commanders remarks that some of the men on board died and the process is still experimental.
  • The experiment has been the subject of several television shows dealing with the paranormal and with , including The Unexplained, History's Mysteries, Vanishings!, Unsolved Mysteries,[22] and Dark Matters: Twisted But True.
  • The "Experiment" is also referenced again in the fourth Doctor Who:The Adventure Games release, "Shadows of the Vashta Nerada".
  • The date and name of "The Philadelphia Experiment" are referred to in the first game of the video game series Assassin's Creed. The password to access the conference room is "10281943" (the proposed date in month-day-year format) and an email also refers to the "project". An email to one of the characters in the game mentions that the ship, instead of turning invisible, "briefly manifested in a future state for approximately 18 minutes." The same email also says that the fictional company that engineered the project, Abstergo Industries, chose to drop the project, citing "paradox concerns."
  • The ship's barometer from the Eldridge is an Artifact on the Syfy show Warehouse 13. Activating it freezes time in a localized area for forty-seven seconds, with the person who activated it being unaffected.
  • "The Philadelphia Experiment" is referenced in Brad Thor's The Athena Project. The novel suggests that the U.S. Navy was trying to recreate matter teleportation experiments originally conducted by Hans Kammler and the Nazi German SS Wunderwaffen group.
  • At Morey's Piers theme park in New Jersey there's a haunted attraction called "Ghost Ship" in which a second ship "Ignis Fatuus" who took part in the "Philadelphia Experiment" has come back from beyond the grave and the crew are not happy with what has happened to them.
  • In the manga Mudazumo Naki Kaikaku, the experiment is mentioned for its proof the Tesla Coils can be used to create invisibility fields.
  • The Philadelphia Experiment is indirectly referenced in Valve's Half Life and Portal franchise, sharing a similar story to that of the Borealis, a research ship (owned by the fictional company Aperture Science) that disappeared during experiments with teleportation.
  • Cliver Cussler's Mirage, a book of the Oregon Files series, ties into the story around the Philadelphia Experiment and Nikola Tesla.

See also

  • Andrew Furuseth, namesake of the SS Andrew Furuseth
  • Morris K. Jessup
  • Camp Hero
  • List of conspiracy theories


  1. Carroll, Robert Todd (2007-12-03). "Philadelphia experiment". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dash, Mike (2000) [1997]. Borderlands. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press. ISBN 978-0-87951-724-3. OCLC 41932447. 
  3. Adams, Cecil (1987-10-23). "Did the U.S. Navy teleport ships in the Philadelphia Experiment?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The "Philadelphia Experiment"". Naval Historical Center of the United States Navy. 2000-11-28. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  5. History Channel : That's Impossible!
  6. 6.0 6.1 Moseley, James W. & Karl T. Pflock (2002), Shockingly Close to the Truth!: Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-991-3.
  7. Introduction to the Varo edition of M. K. Jessup's Case for the UFO
  8. Jessup, M. K. (2003) [1973] (pdf). "Varo Edition" — The Case for the Unidentified Flying Object. The Cassiopaean Experiment. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Information Sheet: Philadelphia Experiment". Naval Historical Center of the United States Navy. 1996-09-08. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  10. Death of Al Bielek announced on Coast to Coast AM broadcast by George Noory on 13 October 2011
  11. Al Bielek (March 31, 1927 – October 10, 2011) dies in Guadalajara, Mexico, age 84.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Al Bielek Debunked". 2008-01-14. 
  14. Brian Dunning (2006-12-24). "The Real Philadelphia Experiment: Did a US Navy warship completely disappear in 1943?". Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena. Retrieved 2011-12-12. 
  15. The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility, William L. Moore, in consultation with Charles F. Berlitz, Grosset and Dunlap, New York, New York, 1979, pages 18-19.
  16. "Prepared Statement by Nikola Tesla" (.doc file). Pepe's Tesla Pages. 1889. 
  18. See, for example here and here.
  19. Lewis, Frank (August 19–26, 1999). "The Where Ship? Project: Though long dismissed by the Navy, the legend of The Philadelphia Experiment shows no signs of disappearing". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Vallée, Jacques F. (1994) "Anatomy of a Hoax: The Philadelphia Experiment Fifty Years Later" Journal of Scientific Exploration Vol 8 No 1 pg 47-71
  21. 21.0 21.1 abstract of "Anatomy of a Hoax: The Philadelphia Experiment Fifty Years Later" by Jacques F. Vallee, URL accessed February 21, 2007
  22. Philadelphia Experiment, Unsolved Mysteries aired 1/1/06, Dark Matters aired 8//31/11, 10/31/11

External links

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