In the 1964 adaptation of the James Bond novel "Goldfinger", in a famous scene, Bond is bound to a table and threatened to be cut in half by a powerful laser that Goldfinger later uses to break into Fort Knox (while in the novel it was a table saw, apparently). The first operational laser was built in 1960, only four years prior to the films release. It seems astonishing to me that in such a short amount of time the technology made its way into popular movies already.

Was a laser a well-known concept to the public by then? Would a laser that somebody with enough funds could build in the early 1960s be able to cut/melt metal? Or was the use of the laser in the movie seen as a futuristic "spy movie gadget"?

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    $\begingroup$ A type of laser commonly used in industrial applications including cutting and welding is the CO₂ laser, which came into existence in 1964: C. K. N. Patel, "Continuous-Wave Laser Action on Vibrational-Rotational Transitions of CO₂", Physical Review, Vol. 136, No. 5A, Nov. 1964, A1187: " A cw power output of about 1 mW has been measured ". That suggests that the script writers for "Goldfinger" must have used forward-looking speculation to a time when the power output of lasers would increase to levels sufficient for cutting metal. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Jan 3, 2023 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ The idea of a laser-like "death ray" appeared already in Wells's The War of the Worlds (1897) and became commonplace in science fiction literature since, with Tolstoy's Garin Death Ray (1927) presenting it in most detail as a centerpiece of the plot. Townes, the inventor of lasers, said that he was inspired by it. So yes, the public was well prepared when the lasers actually arrived on the scene. Incidentally, a film adaptation of Garin Death Ray also appeared soon after, in 1965. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Jan 3, 2023 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect a survey for the early 1960s of various magazines such as Popular Science and Science Digest and Science and Mechanics and Scientific American will uncover many articles about lasers. I remember the World Book Encyclopedia's Science Year supplement for 1967 having an article about lasers and holograms, with a hologram insert for people to experiment with, and I'm sure I knew about lasers before then (I was 8 to 9 years old then, so I was definitely not very widely read at the time). (continued) $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ In the early 1960s lasers were surely often written about in various "science fact" articles and in several science fiction magazines (the latter also in editorials, letters to the editor, etc.), in various semi-technical magazines (e.g. ham radio magazines), and other such places. I vaguely recall my mother saying to me in the mid-to-late 1960s that despite how much lasers were talked about, in the first few years it was often written that they had no practical application. However, I don't know to what extent this was actually the case in the early 1960s. $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ My last comment should have begun as: "In the early 1960s lasers were surely also written about in various "science fact" articles that tended to appear in certain science fiction magazines (and also probably made appearances in their editorials, in their letters to the editor, etc.) ..." $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 14:53


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