Inert Nuclear Missile From The Cold War Found In Washington Man’s Garage

Published February 7, 2024

The missile's owner found it at an estate sale. When he died, his neighbor tried to donate the missile to an Ohio museum.

Nuclear Missile

Bellevue Police DepartmentThe missile was identified as an unguided air-to-air rocket meant to carry nuclear warheads.

At the end of January, police in Bellevue, Washington received an unusual call from an Ohio museum. The museum explained that a Bellevue local had contacted them about donating a nuclear missile.

Police went to check it out — and found that a recently deceased man had, in fact, had a military-grade rocket slowly rusting in his garage.

The Missile In The Garage

The saga of the missile in the garage began with a phone call. On Jan. 31, 2024, the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio reached out to police in Bellevue, Washington state with a strange — and possibly dangerous — problem. They said that a Bellevue resident had contacted them about donating a Cold War-era nuclear missile.

The resident told the museum that his neighbor had purchased the missile at an estate sale. When he died, the resident was put in charge of his late neighbor’s belongings, including the missile. Apparently having no use for it himself, he contacted the museum, who promptly called the police.

The BBC reports that the museum did not inform the resident of their plans to involve the police, and so he was surprised to find the bomb squad on his doorstep. He was “not expecting a call from us,” Bellevue Police Department spokesman Seth Tyler explained to the BBC. “[But] he was gracious enough to let us have a look at it.”

The Cold War Missile

Bellevue Police DepartmentThe missile was originally found at an estate sale, then moved to its owner’s garage where it apparently stayed until he died.

According to a statement from the Bellevue Police Department, the bomb squad was able to determine that the missile was “a Douglas AIR-2 Genie (previous designation MB-1), an unguided air-to-air rocket that is designed to carry a 1.5 kt W25 nuclear warhead.” However, the missile was inert. There was no warhead attached to the missile, and it contained no rocket fuel.

This, the police department statement explained, “essentially [means] that the item was an artifact with no explosive hazard.”

And as the BBC put it, it also meant that there was no need “for mass evacuations in the city of 150,000 people 10 miles east of Seattle.”

What Was The Missile Used For?

It’s a mystery how the missile ended up at an estate sale, and then in a garage, but experts have a better idea of its origins.

According to The New York Times, the missile was first used in 1957, and was designed to carry a 1.5-kiloton nuclear warhead. Not only was it the first nuclear-armed rocket invented to destroy aircraft targets, but it was also the most powerful interceptor missile developed by the U.S. Air Force.

Some 1,000 such missiles were built until they were discontinued in 1962.

Genie Missile

Steve Heeb/Bellevue Police DepartmentA similar Genie missile.

Fortunately, this one is inert. According to the Bellevue Police Department, it’s nothing more than “basically a gas tank for rocket fuel” and an “artifact.”

The police even made light of the situation, posting on social media with reference to the Elton John song “Rocket Man”: “And we think it’s gonna be a long, long time before we get another call like this again.”

The missile’s new owner is free to donate the missile but, as the BBC reports, he has been “extremely irritated” by the media coverage.

After reading about the nuclear missile found in a Washington state man’s garage, discover the astounding story of Starfish Prime, when the U.S. detonated a nuclear bomb in space. Or learn about the disconcerting cracks forming in the Runit Dome, the concrete “nuclear tomb” placed over nuclear waste in the Marshall Islands.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Inert Nuclear Missile From The Cold War Found In Washington Man’s Garage.", February 7, 2024, Accessed May 25, 2024.