Born in 1888 in what’s now Croatia and becoming a U.S. citizen at the age of 35, Nikola Tesla had hundreds of patents, developed AC/DC power distribution, invented radio, and made inroads into wireless technologies that spanned communications, data, and energy. He died in 1943 poor, irrelevant, and talking a lot about death rays.
There are a few reasons why one of the best brains to slip through a birth canal ended up so marginalized in such a technology-entrenched culture as ours, much of which he made possible. However, a lot of people just point the finger at Thomas Edison.
Intel commercial about him and host his own Science Channel program.
Anyway, Edison was also a literal anti-Tesla as well, since the two were fierce rivals. And Edison was able to use his financial and political clout to ensure his own legacy and do his best to shred Tesla’s.
In fact, despite Tesla’s substantial contributions to science, he kind of became the Captain Beefheart of the field after his death. Everybody kind of forgot about him. These days, he’s risen back to prominence. Now he’s more, I don’t know, the Syd Barrett of science. I credit these guys.
Still, throughout his life he undertook some pretty cool experiments that really raised the perception of his laboratory almost to the point of the mythic. Like at Wardenclyffe.
In 1901, Tesla began construction on a facility in Shoreham, NY, on the northern coast of Long Island, to experiment with wireless overseas communications and wireless electricity transmission. The facility included a low, square brick building and a massive, 186-foot-tall science fiction-like tower. The latter was topped by a giant steel cupola 55 feet in diameter that, judging by old pictures and artist representations, really shouldn’t be on any sovereign nation’s soil until at least 2058.
In 1939, a photo lab moved into the facility, which was then sold to its present owner, Agfa, which shuttered it in 1992. For the past two decades Wardenclyffe has sat there abandoned and dejected, sulking over the fact that it could have surpassed Kitty Hawk as one of the most important science history sites in the country.
The whole 16-acre property is thinly wooded and surrounded by chain link and barbed wire, but because it sits at the intersection of Route 25 and Tesla Street, you can view it from two sides without trespassing.
As per the rules of my probation and the mandates of my own cowardice, I didn’t go poking around inside the property, although some previous trespasser had rolled back bit of the chain link fence on the Tesla Street side, making the idea extremely appealing.
Since the visible area that you can see is actually the property to the rear of Wardenclyffe, you can just make out the overgrown, circular foundation rim of the tower, if you know what you’re looking for. The foundation is worth checking out on the Google map below (just zoom in). The place once also featured a memorial plaque to Tesla, but it was stolen a few years ago.
These days, Tesla’s legacy is secure, there are statues of him all across the world, Tesla coils in every science center, and his ashes are ensconced in a golden orb on display in a museum dedicated to him in Belgrade.
Still, Wardenclyffe should be a bit more hallowed, I think. I mean, had his backers not suffered from such short-sightedness, I probably wouldn’t have had to live most of my life without a cellphone and WiFi, and by now we’d probably never had to plug anything in ever again. Tesla needs to be reincarnated…soon.