On August 12, 1971, the San Diego Union printed an obituary: “Dr. Royal R. Rife, 83, an optics engineer who invented a high-power microscope, was buried yesterday at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Rife had worked on his optical inventions since coming to San Diego from Nebraska in 1906. His home was at 3555 Grossmont Center Drive, La Mesa. He left no survivors.”
There was more to his story than that. A lot more, some say. One of them, Christopher Bird, claims that Rife took science “into the micro-beyond.”
In the summer of 1934, Dr. Milbank Johnson set up a clinic at the Scripps Ranch, north of San Diego. Johnson, Dr. Arthur Kendall, and Rife would test a non-invasive cure on 16 terminal cancer patients.
Rife, who preferred to be called “Roy,” had developed a “Universal Microscope.” It had 5682 parts and could magnify objects at least 17,000 times normal size (while most microscopes achieve only 2000 or 2500). Also unheard of: Rife said he could watch a living microorganism change shape. But scientists believed — and most do still — that microorganisms have a single form, and that microscopes only work with dead specimens.
“This is a new kind of magnifier,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1931, “and the laws governing microscopes may not apply to it.”
Even more unheard of: 14 lenses and prisms of block crystal quartz could illumine a virus and determine its true color. “Just like the colors are tuned on television sets,” said an associate, years later. Each virus has a specific color. Typhus, said Rife, was turquoise-blue.
Once he had identified the color signature, Rife said he could beam radiations of that frequency onto the organism and “devitalize” it. The process resembled the way a focused musical tone can shatter a wine glass. He said the organism would “wiggle,” then explode.
Rife projected the frequencies through a tube filled with helium. He claimed that the “Beam Ray” could destroy specific microorganisms and not harm others.
A relentless experimentalist, Rife often sat transfixed for long periods, strapped, literally, to his seat. “I’ve seen Roy in that doggone seat without moving,” a friend wrote, “watching the changes in the frequency, watching when the virus in the slide would be destroyed. Twenty-four hours meant nothing to him.” Some say even 48, and he drank only water all that time. One result: chronic eyestrain.
In 1932, using a medium Kendall had devised to grow cancer tissues, Rife made 20,000 attempts to isolate a virus causing cancer. He found it, he said, and called the purplish-red microbe a “BX Virus.”
By 1933, Rife claimed he’d discovered the frequencies for typhus, polio, spinal meningitis, and herpes. But he focused on cancer. And in 1934, after he had inoculated over 400 rats with BX and then devitalized their tumors with the Beam Ray, Rife, Johnson, and Kendall turned their sights on 16 cancer patients at Scripps Ranch.
Every third day, each patient sat a few feet from the ray machine for three minutes. Spacing of the treatments “devitalized” the cancer one tissue-layer at a time. It also allowed the body to heal and rid itself of toxins.
One of the patients, Tom Knight, had a large tumor on his cheek. That the darkened lump was visible allowed the researchers to measure how the ray performed from start to finish. In 1935, Johnson sent a letter to two San Diego doctors introducing “Mr. Thomas Knight. He was the one who had the carcinoma over the malar bone on his left cheek that we treated at the La Jolla clinic last year.” Knight’s skin looked flawless.
In 1946, Dr. James Couche recalled a patient at the clinic who looked like a “bag of bones.” Rife told Couche to feel the man’s stomach. “It was just a cavity,” and “absolutely solid. And I thought to myself, well, nothing can be done for that.”
After two months of treatment, Couche claims, the man recovered completely. The next day, against the doctors’ warnings, the man drove to his farm in El Centro to see about a sick cow. “He was up all night with it. The next day he drove back without any rest whatever — so you can imagine how he had recovered,” wrote Couche. “I finally bought one of those frequency instruments and established my office.”
Within three months, 14 of the 16 cancer patients had recovered. The other 2 had clean bills of health within the next six weeks.
Johnson had funded the clinic to observe Rife’s methods firsthand. In the fall of 1934, convinced by the treatments, Johnson established the Special Medical Research Committee at the University of Southern California. Its purpose: supervise the Rife research and eventually announce it. The group, writes Daniel Haley, was composed of “cautious” medical professionals, who “balked at early release of the clinic’s amazing results, preferring instead to gather more data.”
Rife wanted to keep the findings as quiet as possible. By 1934, he knew he needed much more testing before going public.
He told his cohorts never to say “cure” when talking about the research. “Devitalize” was vague enough to suggest something positive. Offers for his instruments began flowing in, but he refused. “When money comes through the door,” he said, “science flies out the window.”
Rife was an inveterate tinkerer. In 1913, the year he received an honorary PhD from Heidelberg University, he built a plane. He devised a camera that could take 3D pictures, invented new kinds of shotguns and fishing rods, found ways to speed up a race car. He was also an accomplished musician: French horn (for the symphony), guitar, cello, and mandolin. In 1912, he married Mamie Quin, daughter of Ah Quin, legendary mayor of San Diego’s Chinatown. In later life he became a member of the Baha’i Faith.
Writes Ben Cullen: “In my estimation, Roy was one of the most gentle, genteel, self-effacing, moral men I ever met. Not once [in 30 years] did I ever hear him say one word out of place.”
Adds Daniel Haley: “A religious man, an accomplished musician…a brilliant man but not…a fighter.” Nor were his partners. In the years that followed, they faced, one wrote, severe harassment, “like the Galileo business.”
On May 6, 1938, the San Diego Evening Tribune announced that, after 18 years of trial and error in his Point Loma lab, Rife had isolated a cancer organism and a means of arresting it. He compared the ray to compatible tuning forks. When one vibrates, sound waves cause the other to vibrate as well.
Rife said the tiny organism may not be the direct cause of cancer. “We can say that these waves of the ray have the power to devitalize disease organisms when tuned to an exact particular wave length.” They needed much more study, but, he concluded, “we can justly say the results so far are very encouraging.”
Rife may have made discoveries that are still ahead of our time: a super-microscope; a noninvasive means of killing viruses; microorganisms changing shape. (“Just what would you see at that magnification?” asked a scientist.) The biggest boat-rocker: germs may be the result of a disease, not the cause. This latter idea, writes Barry Lynes, “violated the strongest of established biological dogmas: the germ theory of disease. Everyone knew that X disease was caused by a characteristic germ.” Rife said otherwise.
He didn’t publish his methods or findings. He worried that his experiments could not be replicated without his Universal Microscope, and he refused to share its inner workings. He also knew his work needed decades of refinement.
In 1937, Ben Cullen, Philip Hoyland, and others founded Beam Ray to manufacture the machine. Rife was not a partner. He approved the company only if it used his original principles and tested each unit thoroughly. Members received 6000 shares. By 1938, they had rented out 14 frequency instruments: 12 to American doctors, 2 to British.
Dr. Richard Hamer installed one at the Paradise Valley Sanitarium in National City. He ran “an average of 40 cases a day through his place,” writes Ben Cullen. “His case histories were absolutely wonderful.”
One patient, an 82-year-old man, went home to Chicago and boasted about his miraculous improvement. It was said that Morris Fishbein, head of the American Medical Association, learned of the cure and wanted to buy into Beam Ray. Fishbein sent a lawyer, Aaron Shapiro, to wine and dine shareholders in San Diego.
“We wouldn’t do it,” writes Cullen. “The renown was spreading, and we weren’t even advertising.” When shareholders refused, Rife and his inventions went under assault from without and within.
The Beam Ray, if real, became an unthinkable threat to established medicine. (“Imagine a universal cure,” an observer writes, that “makes drugs obsolete.”) Pharmaceutical companies demanded more testing and blueprints of the device. The FDA withheld approval.
Objects began disappearing from Rife’s lab on Alcott Street: photos and films of dwarf bacteria, notes, and records. A fire destroyed the Burnett Lab in New Jersey, where researchers were about to announce astonishing successes with the Beam Ray. In 1944, all the records at USC disappeared.
In 1939, six months after articles about Rife appeared in the Evening Tribune, the San Diego Medical Society banned use of all his instruments. “The most important question,” writes Daniel Haley, “is who caused the Medical Society to come down so hard on Rife’s doctors? Fishbein had already been warning against electronic medicine in the 1930s. Did the Medical Society finally…get around to following Fishbein’s advice — or were they pushed?”
Soon after, many of Rife’s associates turned against him and denied any knowledge of his successes.
Dr. Hamer: “Fishbein bribed a partner in the company…we were kicked into court — operating without a license. I was broke after a year.”
Philip Hoyland claimed he had discovered the frequencies. He demanded a greater stake in Beam Ray and took the company to court. “His lawsuit,” writes an observer, “was a naked maneuver to gain control. By owning Beam Ray, he’d be in position to negotiate with Fishbein, or any other outsider trying to buy in.”
That the trial was about ownership of the company, and not the instruments, some say, also benefited Fishbein and Cornelius P. Rhoads, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, who was dictating cancer policies in 1939. The trial could shake up the company without bringing national attention to the cures.
The lawsuit went to trial June 12, 1939. Hoyland’s lawyer, Aaron Shapiro, had earlier regaled the Ray Beam associates. In December, superior court judge Edward Kelley found for the defendants. “I am not convinced of his blameless character,” the judge said of Hoyland. “I am denying the plaintiff has clean hands.”
During the trial Rife had to testify at least three times. Hoyland’s lawyers, Shapiro and Eli Levenson, interrogated Rife, writes Barry Lynes, “in a way he had never before experienced.” They ripped into his personal life, questioned his moral character, and grilled him so mercilessly, says Lynes, that “his nerves gave.”
“Rife had never been in court and he just became a nervous wreck,” writes Cullen. “He couldn’t stand it.” His hands shook, his voice trembled. He started smoking “pretty heavily and inhaling, which he didn’t use to before.” When a doctor refused to give him calming drugs that might become addictive, he recommended Rife try alcohol.
In 1940, the cost of the trial bankrupted Beam Ray. The Universal Microscope disappeared. And Rife became an alcoholic. “Afterwards,” says Cullen, “when he wasn’t under the influence of liquor, he would endeavor to progress, but every doggone day at a certain time he would go and get a little nip out of his car and that was the end of it.”
For years, he couldn’t hold down a job, though he’d been offered work at Convair, Rohr, and Ryan, doing construction at the aircraft companies. Variations of the original devices proliferated, some with partial success, others resulting in death.
In 1944, the Smithsonian Institute published a detailed report about the Universal Microscope, which validated many claims. (“Disease organisms…may be observed to succumb when exposed to certain lethal frequencies.”) Within a month, the prism from the microscope disappeared. That same year, Dr. Milbank Johnson, who helped guide the enterprise for a decade, died — mysteriously, some say.
In 1960, though he would live another 11 years, Rife filed an affidavit for a court case that read like a personal obituary: “Having spent every dime I earned in my research for the benefit of mankind, I have ended up a pauper, but I achieved the impossible and would do it again.” ■
Barry Lynes: “Rife employed a system of lighting as unknown to microscopy today as it was in the 1930s. Not simply uncommon, it was UNKNOWN.”
Mark Simpson: “Research is needed to determine if one can actually blow bugs through the air using a radio frequency carrier wave. This has yet to be proven by modern Rife researchers.”
Gerald F. Foye: “Unfortunately the name Rife was, and still is, applied to just about any and all electronic frequency healing devices. Little of it is true Rife technology. The charlatans have stepped in.”
- Bird, Christopher, “What Has Become of the Rife Microscope?” New Age Journal, March, 1976.
- Foye, Gerald F., Royal R. Rife: Humanitarian Betrayed and Persecuted, Spring Valley, 2011.
- Haley, Daniel, Politics in Healing, Virginia, 2001.
- Kendall, Arthur, “The Filtration of Bacteria,” Science, March 18, 1932.
- Lynes, Barry, The Cancer Cure That Worked! Fifty Years of Suppression, Ontario, 1987.
- Rosenow, Edward C., “Observations with the Rife Microscope of Filter Passing Forms of Micro Organisms,” Science, August 26, 1932.
- Simpson, Mark, “The Rife Way,” Electrus Newsletter on Bio-Electronics, November 1990, #2.
- “The Universal Microscope,” Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1944.
- Articles in the San Diego Union, the San Diego Evening Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.