Nikola Tesla is one of the most unsung heroes in history. But this week Tesla is finally getting the vindication he deserves through an outpouring of public support. An internet Über-site called The Oatmeal run by a young man named Matthew Inman has raised over $1 million to buy the land where the Tesla's old laboratory once stood. Inman partnered with the non-profit organization Indiegogo, and the State of New York to raise the funds to buy the land in just nine days. The plan is to build a kick-ass museum on the site commemorating Tesla's contributions to science and technology.
But who is Nikola Tesla you may ask?
Born a subject of the Austrian Empire in 1856 Tesla came to the United States from present-day Croatia in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison. A slender man with a well-kept mustache Tesla brought with him his wild eyes and sharp mind filled with ideas that would change the world. Michael Faraday had only recently formalized the concepts of electromagnetism while Tesla used these ideas to build motors that could generate alternating electric current from any kind of turbine.
Though it was his early investigations into wireless energy transfer that began his career-long mission to bring free electricity to every household on the planet.
Tesla tried to usher in the age of alternating current, radio, and television with fanfare. However his showmanship as a scientist often made skeptics of his colleagues. When presenting his new concepts he insisted one of his coils be spouting off the visual manifestations of electricity, popping and fizzling so loudly as to make his words inaudible. If his contemporaries could have heard his voice they would see he had an infectious obsession with progress and the idea that the hidden powers of electricity and magnetism could be unlocked to allow humanity to live more easily.
His efforts to realize this vision were thwarted by J. P. Morgan and other financial backers who caught wind of Tesla's scheme to deliver free electricity wirelessly to the public through Tesla's giant telecommunications tower at Wardenclyffe. There was no profit to be made by giving people what the needed freely.
Tesla spent the last years of his life spiraling into madness and obscurity. He did not marry or have any long-term companionship save for the pigeons he fed from his hotel window. He became so obsessed with the number three that all aspects of his life somehow revolved around that number including his chosen place of residence.
Between January 5th and January 8th 1943 Nikola Tesla, like an electron popping out of an uncertain orbital, passed out of earthly existence in room 3327 on the 33rd floor in the Hotel New Yorker.
The story of this man's life is more magical because of its truth than the most fantastic fiction ever written. I imagine his life as a heavenly existence spent in reality passing time with some of history's brightest stars - Mark Twain, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Edison. His vision for free and equitable POWER (in all philosophical and practical definitions of the word) for every man woman and child on earth has still not been fully realized. But as the internet gains depth and gravity this vision is pieced together slowly and perhaps one day will be complete.
I would like to thanks Matthew Inman for his efforts in raising funds for the Tesla Museum. I hope to bring my grandchildren there one day and I will think back to this particular entry on Tom Paine's Ghost.