The Arc Reactor is a power source designed by Howard Stark and Anton Vanko to replicate the Tesseract's energy. After the Tesseract's energy had been harnessed by HYDRA during World War II, Stark studied the Tesseract attempting to do the same. Limited by the technology at his disposal, Stark and Vanko used his research on the Tesseract to create the Arc Reactor. Intended to be the first stage of Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., the Arc Reactor remained generally inactive until Tony Stark miniaturized it and used it to power his Iron Man armors.
In the aftermath of World War II, Howard Stark studied the Tesseract and wished to harness its energy, having developed the idea of providing a limitless power source that could provide clean, renewable energy for the future of mankind. Unable to harness its power, Howard used his research on to the Tesseract to create the first Arc Reactor, which Howard began to develop alongside Anton Vanko. However, Howard considered the reactor to be simply "a first step" to a much bigger project.
While Howard saw the Arc Reactor as a way to create a new, cleaner method to replace nuclear power, Anton only saw it as an idea he could sell to get rich. Due to this, Howard accused him of espionage and had him deported back to Russia, an event that later motivated his son, Ivan Vanko, to use the Arc Reactor technology to seek revenge on Tony Stark for ruining their lives.
Eventually, a large Arc Reactor for industrial energy production was created to power Stark Industries Headquarters in Los Angeles. Howard developed a theoretical new element which would be the key to completing the perfect Arc Reactor based on the Tesseract. However, he was unable to synthesize it due to being limited by the technology available at the time, and the Arc Reactor project soon hit a standstill. Knowing he wouldn't be able to truly harness the power of the Tesseract or create the perfect Arc Reactor in his lifespan, Howard left a blueprint of his theoretical new element hidden within a model of the 1974 Stark Expo along with a recorded message to his son with clues about the Stark Expo model's true nature hoping he would rediscover it and finish his work. The message along with his original research were left at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s custody so they could one day give them to Tony while the Stark Expo model was left at Stark Industries.
In the years after Howard's death, the Arc Reactor project became a non-priority to the company as it was steered towards mainly producing weapons, with the then acting CEO, Obadiah Stane, dismissing the clean energy project as a "publicity stunt".
During the Ten Rings attack and capture of Tony Stark, a bomb exploded near Stark, causing shrapnel to enter his body near his heart, threatening his life. Dr. Ho Yinsen removed most of the shrapnel but some were too close to his heart so he created a way to stop the shrapnel by using a powerful electromagnet and a car battery. Stark knew that to stand a better chance of survival he had to replace the relatively weak car battery. Thus, he adapted the design of the large Arc Reactor that powered his factory and created a miniaturized reactor that could fit in his hand, giving him a compact and powerful power source that fit directly into his chest and was guaranteed not to fail from normal use. In order to escape from the Ten Rings captivity, Stark and Dr. Yinsen created a rudimentary suit of powered armor to help them escape.
Once Stark got back to America, he suggested that Stark Industries should focus on the Arc Reactor once again, which Obadiah Stane remained skeptical about until he saw the miniature reactor. And his A.I. J.A.R.V.I.S. created a much more powerful version of the miniaturized Arc Reactor, modified to independently power more advanced versions of his armored suit, which he later dubbed the Iron Man suit. Stane continuously pressured Tony to let him patent the miniature Arc Reactor so he could pitch it to investors in order to keep the company afloat, but Tony refused to.
Obadiah Stane commissioned William Ginter Riva and other Stark Industries scientists to duplicate the miniature version of the Arc Reactor to use it in his own suit of powered armor; however, they could not, believing the technology was not yet possible. Stane admonished that Stark was able to do it himself in a cave using even less resources. Ultimately, Stane stole the Arc Reactor from Stark's chest to power his Iron Monger Armor.
During the Duel of Los Angeles, Stark and Pepper Potts destroyed the Iron Monger suit and killed Stane by overloading the Arc Reactor powering the Stark Industries facility, discharging a massive amount of electricity through the suit and electrocuting Stane, who then fell into the exploding reactor.
After the battle against the Iron Monger, Stark built backup Arc Reactor in his suits to so they are able to function without his personal Reactor in his chest.
Soon, Stark eventually learned that the Palladium cores from the Arc Reactor were poisoning him as the Arc Reactor burned through them, which was accelerated by his use of the Iron Man armor.
Tony attempted to fix this completely by finding a possible substitute for Palladium without success. After finding out about this, Nick Fury gave Tony his father's original research regarding the new element which would complete the reactor. With it, and after finding the blueprints within the Stark Expo model, Tony was able to synthesize the element. This created the "perfected" version of the Arc Reactor Howard originally envisioned, and along with saving Tony's life.
At the same time, Ivan Vanko produced a replicated version of the miniaturized Arc Reactor, although the replica was lower in energy output. Vanko's designs were later improved and used in the Hammer Drones he helped create.
Return to Alternative Power
Eventually, Tony Stark decided to continue his father's ideals to use the Arc Reactor to provide clean energy for the world. In order to capitalize on this ideal, Tony Stark created a redesigned Industrial Arc Reactor to power the newly-built Stark Tower in New York City. The tower was completely removed from the city's power grid and ran entirely from the Arc Reactor in order to make Stark Tower a “beacon of clean energy” and show the world the capability of Arc Reactor technology on a large scale. Even though it was only a prototype, the building was capable of maintaining itself for an entire year.
Following the battle on the Norco, Tony Stark studied Extremis in order to cure Pepper Potts, and used a variant to survive his shrapnel removing operation. No longer requiring an Arc Reactor in his chest, he later drove to the ruins of his Mansion and threw the Arc Reactor to the ocean.
Built-In Arc Reactors
Following the Avengers' mobilization in order to partake in the War on HYDRA, Tony Stark created Iron Man armors that had built-in Arc Reactors in them, as he no longer required one in his chest.
Clash of the Avengers
In 2016, following the clash, Tony Stark and James Rhodes flew after Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. Sam Wilson also flew after the two, so Rhodes asked Vision to disable Wilson’s Falcon suit with his laser beam. Vision, however, missed Wilson and hit Rhodes's Arc Reactor, causing him to crash and seriously injure him.
Battle at the HYDRA Siberian Facility
Later, in the HYDRA Siberian Facility, Stark fought against Rogers and Barnes. During the fight, Barnes tried to remove Iron Man's Arc Reactor with his prosthetic arm, only for it to blast out a Unibeam, which disintegrated the arm. Rogers then used his shield to disable Stark's suit by destroying the Arc Reactor.
Duel at Coney Island
Two months later, a set of Arc Reactors was transported from the Avengers Tower to the Avengers Compound on a plane. During the transition, Vulture hijacked the plane in order to steal the cargo, but Spider-Man prevented him from doing it, causing the plane to crash on Coney Island. On the ground, Vulture tried to fly with the Arc Reactor container, only to cause Vulture's Exo-Suit to explode, with the Arc Reactors as well.
By 2023, Stark had constructed a new Reactor. During the battle against an alternate Thanos and his army, Stark used the Infinity Stones to wipe them out, sacrificing himself in the process. Following his death, his Reactor turned off.
Tony Stark’s Funeral
In 2024, following a fissure in the Multiverse, people from other universes were transported into the main universe. When Peter Parker brought them to Happy Hogan's apartment, Max Dillon spotted an Arc Reactor and eventually seized it. He then built a new Electro suit and used the Reactor as its core in order to give him almost limitless energy. During the battle at the Statue of Liberty, Dillon used the Reactor to blast electricity and energy at his universe's Spider-Man.
Later, Doctor Octopus arrived and removed the Reactor from Dillon's Electro suit. After setting a cured Dillon down with his tentacles, Octavius looked at the Reactor and appreciated the inventor that created it, stating what he said about his own; "The power of the sun in the palm of my hand”, even taking it back with him to his universe.
Alternate Universe Versions
In an alternate 2012, Tony Stark helped Scott Lang temporary disable the alternate Stark's Arc Reactor so that they could steal the Tesseract and use the Space Stone inside it in order to resurrect people they had lost. The disabling was only temporary, and the Arc Reactor was fixed shortly after Loki escaped with the Tesseract.
In an alternate universe, Tony Stark, wearing his Mark IV armor, sat with Nick Fury at Randy's Donuts and discussed the Avengers Initiative. Natasha Romanoff, in the middle of the discussion, injected him with lithium dioxide to abate the palladium blood poisoning caused by his Arc Reactor. However, Hank Pym, who hid himself in the needle, entered Stark's body and ruptured his organs, causing him to die.
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Design and Capabilities
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