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Can the Internet build Nikola Tesla a museum?

August 18, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • Nikola Tesla's facility on New York's Long Island -- shown incomplete, circa 1902 -- was designed to have a 187-foot tower for the wireless transmission of electrical energy. The tower has been destroyed, but the laboratory building remains.
Nikola Tesla's facility on New York's Long Island -- shown incomplete,…

Talk about an electric fundraising effort: This week Matthew Inman, the guy behind the comic website The Oatmeal, launched an online campaign to raise money to buy Nikola Tesla's last laboratory and turn it into a museum.

In less than 48 hours the campaign had raised more than half a million dollars, $400,000 of which was donated in the first 20 hours.

That may sound kind of insane. Then again, everything that has to do with Nikola Tesla is kind of insane.

This is the man credited with inventing AC electric current, fluorescent and neon lighting, wireless telegraphy, radio tubes and improved turbine engines, among many other crazily futuristic things -- all at the turn of the 20th century.

He also was 6-feet-6 tall, stayed celibate his entire life and -- as Inman writes in a tribute to Tesla (which, beware, contains some coarser language) -- claimed to have fallen in love with a pigeon that shot lasers out of its eyes.

The Indiegogo campaign, cheekily called "Operation Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum," is raising money to help a nonprofit group buy the site of Tesla's last laboratory. The property is located on a busy street in the town of Shoreham on the north shore of Long Island, New York.

The laboratory was built in 1901 and designed by Stanford White, which could make it eligible for historical-monument status in the state. (He's a famous architect.) Tesla also had White design a 187-foot tower to be used for the transmission of wireless electrical energy.

Unfortunately, this super tower was destroyed in 1917, but the laboratory building still remains, and it is this space that the nonprofit group, called the Tesla Science Center, is trying to buy.

The purchase price of the property is $1.6 million, but the group got a matching grant from New York state of up to $850,000. Inman hopes Tesla fans around the world will come up with the money to help buy it and memorialize Tesla forever.

He's off to a good start. As of Friday evening, the online campaign had raised $560,000, with contributions from more than 13,000 people. 

"Tesla is the man who everyone loves," Inman said. "And because of a very unique set of circumstances, we can make a difference in his legacy. I think that is kind of what has incited this mob behavior."

It also helps that there's some urgency to the fundraising effort. Apparently the current owner of the land is entertaining another offer.

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Follow Deborah Netburn on Twitter or Google+

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