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The Philadelphia Experiment

Did the US Navy make an entire ship disappear in a 1943 experiment that went awry?

It's become known as the Philadelphia Experiment. In October of 1943, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, an experiment was conducted aboard a US Navy destroyer escort called the USS Eldridge. The experiment involved the creation of a force field making the ship invisible both to the eye and to radar. The experiment was witnessed by hundreds of sailors.

Unfortunately, there were severe side effects to the crew. Some were found materialized inside the metal of the ship, others were never seen again, and still others were driven insane or plagued for years by mysteriously phasing in and out of existence. Of course the Navy has denied everything. Quite a story!

In fact, it's just a story. None of it ever happened at all. It was completely made up, 12 years later, in 1955 by one guy: Carl Allen, an imaginative loner living with his parents in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

Carl had a strange habit of writing in the margins and annotating every book or scrap of paper in his parents' house. He wrote the tale of the Philadelphia Experiment in the margins of a book about UFO's, claiming to have witnessed it from a nearby ship, the SS Andrew Furuseth. He even said Albert Einstein spent several weeks personally tutoring him on invisibility technology.

Carl signed his annotations "Carlos Allende" and mailed it to the US Navy's Office of Naval Research. It's their job to take everything seriously, so they made several copies of the annotated book and sent them around to see if anyone knew about this. A few of the copies got leaked, and The Philadelphia Experiment entered pop culture.

The naval researchers easily confirmed that neither the Eldridge nor the Furuseth were anywhere near the Philadelphia shipyard at the time. Naval records, ships logs, and interviews with the officers verified both ships had been busy with their actual duties and nobody had any knowledge of any strange experiments. The story was completely fictitious.

Movies and TV shows have been made, so naturally, all sorts of guys have come forward, claiming to have been part of the crew or to have witnessed it. So far none of their stories have held up either.

I enjoy The Philadelphia Experiment as good science fiction, but I'm fascinated by the way that made-up stories can grow and spread and become part of the fabric of pop culture. That's real magic.

Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning

References & Further Reading

Barnes, M., Houpt, F., Schelm, G. "Al Bielek finally debunked." Al Bielek Debunked. Golf Sierra, 18 Jun. 2003. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. <http://www.bielek-debunked.com/>

Broderick, James F., Miller, Darren W. Web of Conspiracy: A Guide to Conspiracy Theory Sites on the Internet. Medford, N.J.: CyberAge Books, 2008. 175-188.

Carroll, R. "Philadelphia Experiment." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Robert T. Carroll, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Sep. 2015. <http://skepdic.com/philadel.html>

Goerman, Robert A. "Alias Carlos Allende: The Mystery Man Behind the Philadelphia Experiment." FATE Magazine. 2 Oct. 1980, Volume 33, Number 10.

Knight, Peter. Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2003. 583-585.

Vallee, Jacques F. "Anatomy of a Hoax: The Philadelphia Experiment Fifty Years Later." Journal of Scientific Exploration. 1 Oct. 1994, 8: 47-71.

 

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