Right at this very minute, a team of the scientist’s biggest fans are hard at work building the country’s first ever museum of all things Tesla. What we’re most excited about? The whole thing is happening right in our backyard. The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is slated to open within the next few years in Shoreham, New York, the original site of one of Tesla’s beloved laboratories. For years, Americans have honored Edison as the creator of the light bulb the motion picture camera and the phonograph, while Tesla loyalists quietly bemoaned the lack of any homage to the late genius. Early in his career, Tesla even spent time working for Edison, serving as the developer behind many of the products that would eventually be attributed only to his boss. It wasn’t long before Tesla struck out on his own. (Who could blame him?)
The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is at the center of that struggle to recognize his contributions, working tirelessly to create a place for people to learn about Tesla’s inventions. “Nikola Tesla is one of the world’s great inventors,” says Jane Alcorn, the soon-to-be-museum’s president. “He was a person who, for many years, was relatively unknown, but whose work and contributions to humanity are finally being recognized.”
Over his decades of work, Tesla was the real-life approximation of what you’d call a mad scientist. He experimented with alternating electric currents, x-rays and wireless devices long before their time, and he gave impressive public performances around New York, wherein he would showcase his discoveries. The city buzzed on everything from the Tesla coil to Jane’s favorite of his inventions, the teleautomaton, a groundbreaking item in the form of a remote-control miniature boat. “It embodies so much of Tesla’s genius: radio, remote control, computer logic, and that special showman’s magic,” she says. “He surprised those who saw his demonstration at Madison Square Garden, and they didn’t understand what they were seeing!”
Over a century later – technology may have caught up with Tesla, but our recognition of his genius? Well, we still weren’t quite there yet. It wasn’t until Matthew Inman, known more commonly by his comic name, the Oatmeal, started a massive campaign on his website that the movement really grew some legs — and raised some serious cash. Starting on August 15, 2012, he began raising money to buy back Tesla’s abandoned laboratory on Long Island and turn it into a museum. By May 22, 2013, the project’s Indiegogo campaign, bluntly titled “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum” had exceeded its initial goal, topping out at $1,370,461. It was high time for America to show old Nik some love.
So what is Wardenclyffe exactly? It’s the former home of Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower, a structure he erected to transmit power and communications wirelessly. (Yessir, yer lookin’ at WiFi’s great-great-grandfather.) It was originally envisioned by wealthy lawyer and banker named James S. Warden, who offered Tesla 200 acres of land as a place to build the massive tower, hoping to eventually add factories where workers could produce large-scale copies of Tesla’s inventions.
Though Tesla did move in and begin building the device from 1901 to 1905, the funds eventually went belly-up, the tower was dismantled and sold for parts, and the whole space was closed down by 1922.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Tesla’s biggest modern day fans, it’s getting back a bit of its former glory. They’ve already made great advances in cleanup of the grounds, and are making room for a statue – yes, a statue – of Tesla which was dedicated by the president of Serbia last September. But when will the center officially open? “It will definitely take several years to open the doors to the public,” Jane says. “The laboratory restoration will take at least two and maybe five or more years to complete. But we hope to be able to host programs on site sooner than that, using some of the other buildings that are being renovated.”
If you’re as eager as we are to see this come to life, there’s other ways to help get things movin’ – whether you volunteer your time or choose to make a donation. “Donations can be made via our website link, and no amount is too small,” Jane says. “Everything helps. Volunteers can sign up to work on projects at Wardenclyffe via the volunteer spot on our website, too. We welcome good ideas, too, which can be sent to us at info@TeslaScienceCenter.org.” Good ideas, after all, are what made a guy like Tesla so great.
In the meantime, Tesla may be gone, but it’s fun to imagine what he would be working on were he still around at Wardenclyffe. “Today, Tesla would probably be immersed in the laboratory, continuing his research,” Jane says. “But this time with the aid of computers, nanotechnology, specialized materials, and so many other support systems.” To envision exactly what he’d build, we’d have to step into the brain of the man himself. For now, we’ll keep our imaginations tuned to the grounds at Wardenclyffe.