Friday, May 8, 2009

For the Love of Lightning

It has come to my attention that the site of Wardenclyffe Tower, Nikola Tesla's last and most ambitious project, is up for sale to whoever wants it and has $1.6 million.  Friends of Science East, a nonprofit organization whose name pretty well explains their mission, is working with the State of New York and Suffolk County to purchase the land from Agfa Corporation, the company which owns the land and manufactured photographic emulsions there, and which has threatened to destroy the buildings on the property (one of which was the laboratory, originally (I guess to make the land more appealing to developers?)).  

So, to quote Billy Joel (verbatim), "Who gives a shit?"  I do.  I give a huge, corny shit about this.  Tesla, to me, is easily the raddest dude of both the 19th and 20th Centuries.  

A little background about Wardenclyffe.  Tesla bought the 200-acre site in 1901, and on the land he built Wardenclyffe Tower, an early transmitter of wireless telegraphy and a facility which could be used to demonstrate the wireless transmission of electrical energy.  This revolutionary invention was initially backed by J.P. Morgan and other heavy hitters in industry, who believed the development of a wireless power grid/communication system would be very lucrative.

Then, however, Tesla gave a public speech about Wardenclyffe, during which he made the following statement:
"As soon as [the Wardenclyffe facility is] completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing, or print can be transferred from one to another place ..."

Tesla believed the services provided by the tower and others like it could provide a free, "world system", making telecommunications and electricity available to all people, all around the world.  Morgan and the other investors, however, disagreed with Tesla's philanthropic views and immediately withdrew funding.  Morgan also convinced other potential investors to avoid funding the project.  With the funding collapsing and debts mounting, Tesla eventually awarded the deed to the Wardenclyffe property to the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in order to pay for his lengthy stay there.  In 1917, the tower itself was eventually demolished because the US Government believed it could be used by German spies.  He died penniless, insane, and obsessed with pigeons.

Friends of Science East wants to take the Wardenclyffe property and restore it to its brief former glory, with plans to place a museum and research center in the original structure, and to rebuild the 187-foot tower.  Although I assume anyone reading this will be one of my penniless friends, they have set up a fund, to which you are welcome to donate, which will hopefully gather enough money to allow the memory of Nikola Tesla's achievements to finally be recognized in a public venue.

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