Organizers behind a Shoreham museum honoring electrical-power pioneer Nikola Tesla hope renewed interest in the late inventor will spark a drive to raise millions of dollars they say are needed to make their dream a reality.
Leaders of the nonprofit developing the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, on a 16-acre parcel along Route 25A, think Tesla’s popularity — seven decades after his death — will help them raise the $15 million needed to open a temporary museum late next year.
Ultimately, they hope to raise $30 million to $50 million to restore Tesla’s old laboratory, which will serve as a permanent museum at the site.
The nonprofit so far has raised about $3.5 million, including gifts from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation and online cartoonist Matt Inman, a Tesla fan.
It may take three to five years to build the permanent museum, depending on the success of planned fundraising campaigns, including one set to start next year, said Marc Alessi, a former state assemblyman who was hired in June as the project’s executive director.
“There’s already a tremendous interest” among Tesla enthusiasts around the world who want to visit the museum when it’s completed, Alessi said. “We see this as a pent-up demand.”
When completed, the facility is expected to include a museum paying tribute to Tesla, as well as a science incubator that could develop a new generation of innovations, Alessi said.
The Serbian-American Tesla is credited with developing alternating current, or AC, to compete with Thomas Edison’s direct current, or DC. Alternating current eventually became the standard for the American power industry.
At his Shoreham laboratory, on the then-200-acre plot he called Wardenclyffe, Tesla developed his dream of wireless communications from 1901 to about 1906.
Financial troubles forced him to abandon his work, but his experiments now are widely viewed as the foundation for smartphones and email.
The 187-foot-tall communications tower he had built on the site was torn down in 1917. All that remains is the concrete and stone circle that had supported the tower.
That circle is to be a centerpiece of the museum. It already has attracted hundreds of visitors to events such as an annual party celebrating the anniversary of Tesla’s birth on July 10, 1856.
When Tesla died in 1943, his legacy remained overshadowed by Edison, his onetime partner and former rival.
“We used to say he’s an unsung hero,” said Jane Alcorn, the science center’s president. “But more people are singing his song.”
“Tesla has a huge fan club, and those of us who are familiar with his work, we’re happy that’s he’s getting the recognition in the afterlife that he deserved when he was alive,” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner said.
David Madigan, a Tesla board member, said the inventor’s legacy carries “a special sense of pride” among Shoreham residents.
“On a little deeper note,” he said, “there’s a sense of wanting to complete his legacy. Tesla was a guy who was ahead of his time.”
July 10, 1856: Born in what is now Croatia.
1884: Immigrates to the United States, where he is hired by Thomas Edison.
1888: Alternating current patents sold to electric power magnate George Westinghouse.
1891: Invents “Tesla coil,” a key component of radio technology.
1895: Designs hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls.
1901-1906: Conducts wireless communication experiments in Shoreham.
1915: Sues Marconi Co. for copyright infringement.
Jan. 7, 1943: Dies in New York City.
June 1943: U.S. Supreme Court upholds some of Tesla’s claims against Marconi.