'War of the Worlds!' The Infamous Martian Invasion Radio Broadcast Explained

The War of the Worlds!

Hulton Archive/Getty

Orson Welles' Oct. 30, 1938 broadcast of "War of the Worlds," based on the English author H.G. Wells tale of a Martian invasion, startled many listeners who thought Martians were really attacking. Here are some photos relating to the historic broadcast.
Here Welles, an American actor, director and producer, stands with British author H.G. Wells following the attention-grabbing radio show. [Listen to the 'War of the Worlds' Radio Broadcast!]

NEXT: Spreading Outrage

Spreading Outrage

NY Daily News Archive/Getty

Part of the furor over Welles' radio broadcast was its apparent authenticity. To recreate "War of the Worlds" (originally a book set in England), Welles "interrupted" a music performance and used actors to stage news reports from an apparent Martian invasion in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. This surprised some listeners who missed the broadcast's opening, which stated up front it was a work of fiction.

On Oct. 31, 1938, newspapers published headlines regarding the dramatization and the responses from the public. The Daily News' front page headline read "Fake Radio 'War' Stirs Terror Through U.S."

Orson Welles, interviewed after the broadcast, conveyed surprise at the public response.

NEXT: Preparing for the Show

Ready for the Show

Bettmann Archive

The "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast was part of Welles' "Mercury Theater on the Air" program on CBS, which broadcast from Radio City in New York. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the program was a relatively low-budget affair that had been running for 17 weeks. At the time of the broadcast, it didn't have a sponsor.

In this image, Welles is seen rehearsing his part for the historic broadcast.

NEXT: The Man, Orson Welles

The Man

Bettmann Archive

Since the broadcast was scheduled for near Halloween, Welles was reportedly looking for something different with "War of the Worlds." After discussions with producers, he settled on a mock-news format, with exciting bulletins interrupting a dance music program. He used his genius to create a realistic enough production of H.G. Well's "The War of the Worlds" to terrify thousands of Americans into believing New Jersey was being invaded by martians on Oct. 30, 1938.

In this image Welles, seen in the background with raised hands, directs a rehearsal for one of his radio plays.

NEXT: Prepping for the Big Night

Prepping for the Big Night

Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty

Performing "War of the Worlds" wasn't a last-minute affair. The actors and crew worked on the program for weeks before launching their performance on Oct. 30.

This image from Oct. 10, 1938, shows Orson Welles and the cast and crew rehearsing for the upcoming radio broadcast.

NEXT: Serious Consequences

Serious Consequences

National Archives/Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

While thousands of radio listeners were surprised, or even frightened, by the "War of the Worlds" broadcast, others were angry.

Case in point: Paul Morton, the city manager of Trenton, New Jersey. After the broadcast, Morton wrote to the Federal Communications Commission expression concern over the effects it generated on its listeners.

NEXT: Proof of the Gag

Proof of the Gag

Bettmann Archive

On Halloween in 1938, this image of Grover's Mills, the biggest employer in Grover's Mill, was captured, proving the town indeed was not destroyed by alien invaders.

The town still holds events today to commemorate the iconic radio broadcast by Welles' Mercury Theater team.

NEXT: Ready to Fight?

Ready to Fight

Bettmann Archive

In Grover's Mill, New Jersey, one William Dock, 76, stands at the ready, shotgun in hand, to defend himself and his town from any possible Martian invaders.

Dock was one of reportedly thousands of people caught unaware of the fictional origins of Orson Welles' radio broadcast.

NEXT: Explaining the Situation

Explaining the Situation

Bettmann Archive

Following the radio broadcast dramatizing H.G. Well's "The War of the Worlds," Orson Welles discussed with reporters the event (as seen in the image here).

The show caused widespread panic and hysteria across New Jersey and the country, and went down in history as an icon of radio entertainment.

Want to hear Welles' "War of the Worlds"? You can listen to it here from Archive.org!.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Christine Lunsford
Producer and Contributing Writer

Christine Lunsford joined the Space.com team in 2010 as a freelance producer and later became a contributing writer, covering astrophotography images, astronomy photos and amazing space galleries and more. During her more than 10 years with Space.com, oversaw the site's monthly skywatching updates and produced overnight features and stories on the latest space discoveries. She enjoys learning about subjects of all kinds.