Never underestimate the power of a good sense of humor.
For 15 years, a not-for-profit organization called Friends of Science East has been trying to raise money to purchase the derelict remains of Nikola Telsa’s former laboratory in Shoreham, on New York’s Long Island. At this site, dubbed Wardenclyffe, Telsa erected both a large laboratory building (designed by the famed architect Stanford White) and a 60-meter-tall tower
from which he planned to broadcast electrical power by means that are still not clear.
Friends of Science East has long sought to turn Tesla’s old Long Island laboratory into a museum and science center to honor the renowned inventor. The New York state government even offered US $850 000 in matching funds to help with the purchase of the property, which is on sale for $1.6 million. Yet up until now the project has languished for lack of sufficient support.
Enter Matthew Inman, the computer programmer-turned-online-comic-artist who created the popular website The Oatmeal. Earlier this month, Inman and Friends of Science East (which now goes by the name Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe) launched the fundraising campaign “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum” on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. The irreverent name of the campaign plays off the humorous material Inman has on The Oatmeal, lauding Tesla’s accomplishments and berating his nemesis, Thomas Edison.
Inman and Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe hoped the 45-day campaign might raise the $850 000 needed to trigger the release of New York state’s matching funds. It did that and more. The gusher of support surprised not only them—it was so stunning the people running Indiegogo have documented the groundswell for all to see. In short, they raised more than $450 000 in the first 24 hours, and at of the time of this writing, the total amassed comes to $1.16 million, with 31 days left to go.
I just hope Inman and Tesla Science Center at WardenClyffe were wise enough to obtain an option to purchase the property before they started the campaign. Otherwise they might find the themselves in a difficult bargaining position with the current owner if he jacks up the asking price to, oh, whatever “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum” pulls in by the end of the campaign.
David Schneider is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His beat focuses on computing, and he contributes frequently to Spectrum's Hands On column. He holds a bachelor's degree in geology from Yale, a master's in engineering from UC Berkeley, and a doctorate in geology from Columbia.