Retro death-rays crafted from Electrolux vacuum cleaners

Behold the Electrolux Death Ray! California artist Greg Brotherton makes these incredibly gorgeous faux-retro weapons by cannibalizing 1950s gear like Electrolux vacuum cleaners. The EDR is a vacuum on top of a Steelcase chair base; when you fire it, a halogen bulb in the center lights a bunch of acrylic rods ruby-red, while the whine of six German siren whistles — powered by the vacuum’s pressure — fills the air with Cold War dread.

As the promotional write-up explains:

Hailed as the Rolls-Royce of atomic weapons, the Electrolux Deathray is the ultimate blend of devastation and design. Custom made to order in your choice of atomic chrome or military field colors the standard Deathray is the perfect addition to any arsenal. Upgrades include atomic control rods in cobalt, ruby or emerald and a choice of firing options from a pencil thin vortex ray to a single pulse moon smasher.

Check out the videos of the Deathray in action, complete with Plan-9 cheesetastic special f/x!

And sure, okay, this is traditionally arch-ironic hipster humor. But Brotherton has neatly identified something I’ve always loved about 1950s industrial design: Everything looked like a weapon. Vacuum cleaners, pens, big-finned cars, cigarette cases, wall clocks, you name it. With all the sweeping chrome, steampunk lug-nuts and aerodynamic lines, it was as if everything had been rigorously designed to achieve escape velocity and rain death upon the commies.

If one can read the spirit of an age in its industrial design, it makes you wonder what you’d learn by scrutinizing our tools today. Ascetic, monklike ipods; cars that look like trilobites. What’s it all add up to?

(Thanks to Brian Corcoran for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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