In 1901, inventor Nikola Tesla built an 18-story tower on New York's Long Island, promising that it would deliver electricity wirelessly to the world. Now that mysterious tower and his lab may be destroyed.
The tower, funded richly by JP Morgan and other turn-of-the-century industrialists, was originally conceived for radio communications, which were just on the cusp of being invented. It was fitted out with a massive antenna, and rumors swirled that Tesla had also created a vast catacombs of tunnels beneath it for some purpose nobody understood. As the inventor of alternating current electricity, along with hundreds of other devices, Tesla was so respected that his funders were willing to put up with his eccentricities if they paid off.
Unfortunately, they didn't. After erecting the massive tower and building a huge laboratory next door, Tesla was beaten to the punch by some guy named Guglielmo Marconi. You know, the inventor of radio. Tesla tried to woo back his irritated funders by promising something bigger and better than radio: Wireless electricity. Unfortunately nobody went for it and he was left destitute. Tesla sparked the tower up only one time in 1903, shooting enormous bolts of electricity into the air. Then he sold it off along with its environs, called Wardenclyffe, to pay his debts.
Eventually parts of the tower were demolished and used for scrap, but a hulking chunk of it remains, along with the lab and possible tunnels beneath. Some of Tesla's massive, bizarre equipment is still in the buildings, and the purpose of some unimaginably huge batteries there remains a mystery.
Unfortunately, as the New York Times reports this week, the Wardenclyffe property is up for sale by its current owner Agfa. The company spent millions cleaning up toxins on the site, and with the economic downturn can no longer afford to keep it. They promise potential buyers that they'll deliver the property "cleared," meaning they'll destroy what's left of Tesla's research facility. There will be no chance for anyone to study its remains, to see if the man really had invented wireless electricity a century ago.
This would be a tremendous loss for science history. Luckily several groups are lobbying to turn the area into a museum for Tesla. You can find out about their efforts in the NYT article here. Let's hope the push for a museum succeeds.