Little reliable published information exists describing Rife's life and work. In the 1930s, he made several optical compound microscopes and using a movie camera, took time-lapse microscopy movies of microbes. He also built microscopes that included polarizers.
Rife also reported that a 'beam ray' device of his invention could destroy the pathogens. Rife claimed to have documented a "Mortal Oscillatory Rate" for various pathogenic organisms, and to be able to destroy the organisms by vibrating them at this particular rate. According to the San Diego Evening Tribune in 1938, Rife stopped short of claiming that he could cure cancer, but did argue that he could "devitalize disease organisms" in living tissue, "with certain exceptions".
Rife's claims about his beam ray could not be independently replicated, and were discredited by independent researchers during the 1950s. An obituary in the Daily Californian described his death at the age of 83 on August 5, 1971, stating that he died penniless and embittered by the failure of his devices to garner scientific acceptance. Rife blamed the scientific rejection of his claims on a conspiracy involving the American Medical Association (AMA), the Department of Public Health, and other elements of "organized medicine", which had "brainwashed and intimidated" his colleagues.
Interest in Rife's claims was revived in some alternative medical circles by the 1987 book by Barry Lynes, The Cancer Cure That Worked, which claimed that Rife had succeeded in curing cancer, but that his work was suppressed by a powerful conspiracy headed by the American Medical Association. After this book's publication, a variety of devices bearing Rife's name were marketed as cures for diverse diseases such as cancer and AIDS. An analysis by Electronics Australia found that a typical 'Rife device' consisted of a nine-volt battery, wiring, a switch, a timer and two short lengths of copper tubing, which delivered an "almost undetectable" current unlikely to penetrate the skin.
Such 'Rife devices' have figured prominently in several cases of health fraud in the U.S., typically centered around the uselessness of the devices and the grandiose claims with which they are marketed. In a 1996 case, the marketers of a 'Rife device' claiming to cure numerous diseases including cancer and AIDS were convicted of felony health fraud. The sentencing judge described them as "target[ing] the most vulnerable people, including those suffering from terminal disease" and providing false hope. In some cases cancer patients who ceased chemotherapy and instead used these devices have died. Rife devices are currently classified as a subset of radionics devices, which are generally viewed as pseudomedicine by mainstream experts. In Australia, the use of Rife machines has been blamed for the deaths of cancer patients who might have been cured with conventional therapy. In 2002 John Bryon Krueger, who operated the Royal Rife Research Society, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in a murder and also received a concurrent 30-month sentence for illegally selling Rife devices. In 2009 a U.S. court convicted James Folsom of 26 felony counts for sale of the Rife devices sold as 'NatureTronics', 'AstroPulse', 'BioSolutions', 'Energy Wellness', and 'Global Wellness'.
In 1994, the American Cancer Society reported that Rife machines were being sold in a "pyramid-like, multilevel marketing scheme". A key component in the marketing of Rife devices has been the claim, initially put forward by Rife himself, that the devices were being suppressed by an establishment conspiracy against cancer "cures". The ACS describes Lynes' claims as implausible, noting that the book was written "in a style typical of conspiratorial theorists" and defied any independent verification. Although 'Rife devices' are not registered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and have been linked to deaths among cancer sufferers, the Seattle Times reported that over 300 people attended the 2006 Rife International Health Conference in Seattle, where dozens of unregistered devices were sold.
- "Local Man Bares Wonders of Germ Life: Making Moving Pictures of Microbe Drama". San Diego Union. November 3, 1929.
- H. H. Dunn (June 1931). "Movie New Eye of Microscope in War on Germs". Popular Science. 118 (6): 27, 141. ISSN 0161-7370.
- "Bacilli Revealed by New Microscope; Dr. Rife's Apparatus, Magnifying 17,000 Times, Shows Germs Never Before Seen". The New York Times. November 22, 1931. p. 19.
- Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution. 1944. p. 207ff.
- Kendall, Arthur Isaac, MD., PhD.; Rife, Royal, PhD. (December 1931). "Observations On Bacillus Typhosus In Its Filterable State: A Preliminary Communication". California and Western Medicine. XXXV (6): 409–11. PMC 1658030. PMID 18741967.
- Jones, Newell (1938-05-06). "Dread Disease Germs Destroyed By Rays, Claim Of S.D. Scientist: Cancer Blow Seen After 18-year Toil by Rife". San Diego Evening Tribune. p. 1.
- "Questionable methods of cancer management: electronic devices" (PDF). CA Cancer J Clin. 44 (2): 115–27. 1994. doi:10.3322/canjclin.44.2.115. PMID 8124604.
- "Cheating death". Sydney Morning Herald. 30 December 2000. Archived from the original on 14 July 2016.
Although unanimously condemned as worthless
- Del Hood (August 11, 1971). "Scientific Genius Dies: Saw Work Discredited". Daily Californian.
- Hills, Ben (2000-12-30). "Cheating Death". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
- Farley, Dixie (September 1996). "Investigators' Reports". FDA Consumer. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Archived from the original on September 2016. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
- "Investigators' Reports". FDA Consumer. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. September 1996. Archived from the original on 2007-12-14. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- Stephen Barrett. "Rife Machine Operator Sued". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12.
- Willmsen, Christine; Michael J. Berens (2007-12-21). "Pair indicted on fraud charges in medical-device probe". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-04-24.
- Stephen Barrett. "Rife Device Marketers Convicted". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2009-08-07.