Preservation Success: Nikola Tesla Wardenclyffe Tower

Have you heard of Nikola Tesla? Shoreham, NY? The Wardenclyffe Tower? Stanford White? Wireless power transmission? Alternating current? You’ve heard of some of it anyway. Have you seen the movie, The Prestige? Ah-ha, good movie, yes? Each time you watch it, you’ll take note of more detail and clues. Have you heard of the website The Oatmeal? I promise, this is all connected.

Let’s start with Tesla. While we all know Thomas Edison for inventing electricity and the light bulb, there is actually a greater, more complicated back story (such is history, yes?). Nikola Tesla studied alternating current and worked for Thomas Edison. For an entertaining (language is not G rated, warning!) overview of Tesla’s accomplishments read this comic by the Oatmeal. For a more detailed account read this and this.  In short, Nikola Tesla was a brilliant man ahead of his time and wanted to create free electricity for everyone. How awesome would that have been.

Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower & Lab in Shoreham, NY, 1904. The lab was designed by architect Stanford White. Source: Wikipedia creative commons license.

Next up, the Wardenclyffe Tower was part of Tesla’s lab in Shoreham, NY. The tower, never fully operational, was demolished in 1917, but a portion of it remains with the lab building. The property has been through many owners and has yet to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places (because the property owner must approve the nomination) even though you could argue that this property is eligible for a National Historic Landmark nomination. This property was at risk for purchase and subsequent demolition, at a price tag of $1.7 million — not exactly pocket change for us preservationists.

The author of The Oatmeal began a campaign to raise $850,000 (which New York State would match) for the purchase price in order to turn the property into a museum and science center about Tesla and his work. So far the campaign has raised over $1 million. And there are still 10 days remaining to raise even more money, in order to garner funds for the museum development. The $1.7 million is only the property purchase price.  Follow the Tesla Science Center on Twitter or find more information on the website. See this album of recent site visit photos.

So you see the success. The Oatmeal helped the fundraising go viral, perhaps to people who never knew about Tesla and to people who aren’t necessarily preservationists. Everyone can appreciate at least a small piece of this story: history, technology, innovation, architecture mixed with historic preservation, our modern information age, community (of all types) efforts, enthusiasm and the idea that you have to start somewhere in order to succeed. To The Oatmeal and all who donated and spread the word: congratulations! Once again, historic preservation is an overarching field that affects all of us in positive ways. Three cheers for everyone.

As for The Prestige. You should watch it and you’ll appreciate Nikola Tesla more than you thought.