Police in Bellevue, Washington, were recently called to examine a unique artifact in a resident’s garage: the rusting body of a Cold War-era missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead.
They arrived on the scene after a man called an Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio, offering to donate the object, which had belonged to his late neighbor. The museum notified local authorities in Bellevue, who sent a bomb squad to investigate earlier this month.
The man “was not expecting a call from us,” Seth Tyler, a Bellevue Police Department spokesperson, tells BBC News’ Max Matza. “He was gracious enough to let us have a look at it, and we determined that it was safe.”
After a careful inspection, specialists concluded that the object was, in fact, a Douglas AIR-2 Genie, an “unguided air-to-air rocket” built to carry a nuclear warhead, per a statement from the Bellevue Police Department.
It was not equipped with a warhead and had no rocket fuel. As Tyler tells the New York Times’ Gaya Gupta, the missile presented no threat.
“It was essentially just a rusted piece of metal at that point,” he says. “An artifact, in other words.”
During the Cold War, though, this rocket was part of a dangerous class of nuclear weapons. When the Douglas AIR-2 Genie became operational in 1957, it was designed to carry a 1.5-kiloton nuclear warhead. It became the first nuclear-armed, air-to-air rocket—meaning it could strike other aircraft targets—and it occupied the arsenals of both the United States and Canada, according to the Air Force Armament Museum Foundation.
The Genie was created to intercept potential strategic bombers from the Soviet Union—“a major military preoccupation of the late 1940s and 1950s,” per the foundation. The only live firing of a Genie occurred on July 19, 1957, when it was detonated over a Nevada test site. Some 3,000 Douglas AIR-2 Genies were manufactured before production ceased in 1962.
Officials have been unable to reach any of the owner’s relatives, but they say he purchased the object at an estate sale. When he died, his neighbor received control of his estate, including the Cold War artifact. Police have not publicly identified the owner.
The military has not requested the return of the object, per the police statement. Because it poses no danger, it will be restored and eventually displayed in a museum.
Tyler tells the Times that Bellevue police are accustomed to calls about military weapons—like hand grenades or other artillery—because of the town’s proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a nearby military base. A Cold War missile, however, is unusual.
As Bellevue police write on X (formerly Twitter), “We think it’s gonna be a long, long time before we get another call like this again.”