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Online fundraiser recharges Tesla lab buy

In 72 hours, an astonishing $511,000 was donated

In 72 hours, an astonishing $511,000 was donated to the Shoreham group trying to buy renowned scientist Nikola Tesla’s lab Wardenclyffe to build a museum and research center. Thanks to the support of popular Internet cartoonist Matthew Inman, pictured here, thousands of Tesla fans/science aficionados have donated to Friends of Wardenclyffe. Credit: Nikola Tesla Museum; Handout

Behold the power of the Internet.

A stalled campaign to buy scientist Nikola Tesla's former laboratory Wardenclyffe, tucked away on Route 25A in Shoreham, has suddenly kicked into high gear.

On Wednesday, the popular Internet cartoonist Matthew Inman, who runs The Oatmeal blog, posted about the struggles of the Shoreham nonprofit Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, which has spent years trying to raise money to buy the $1.6 million property.

As of Friday evening, thousands of people had donated more than $530,000 to Inman's online fundraiser, called "Operation Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum." Three donors contributed $2,500 each, and many more donated in the $50 range, according to the website.

"With me being a Tesla guy, me being a fundraiser guy, this was something that needed to be done now," Inman said.

Inman, 29, of Seattle, said he has long admired the Serbian-American scientist. Among other innovations, Tesla invented major components of modern radio and electricity.

Wardenclyffe, built in 1903, was designed by Tesla's friend, the famed architect Stanford White. Tesla left Wardenclyffe in 1915, and for decades a photo-processing plant operated in the lab's main building.

When Tesla's 156th birthday came around in July, Inman posted a comic about the life of the hapless scientist -- others made money off his inventions, and he died penniless in a Manhattan hotel room in 1943 -- that garnered much attention online.

It was then he heard about the Shoreham group's efforts to buy Wardenclyffe. Inman contacted president Jane Alcorn to set up the fundraising. Donations go directly to Alcorn's group, he said.

Inman's goal is to raise $850,000. He said Alcorn told him the group received a New York State grant that will match any funds raised, though it was unclear which agency awarded the grant and when.

The fundraising page says another offer has been made to buy Wardenclyffe. But realtor John O'Hara, who represents Wardenclyffe's owner, multinational Belgian company Agfa, said Friday no offers have been made.

Last month, a letter of inquiry was sent to O'Hara from a Russian woman who was interested in buying the lab, also to turn it into a Tesla museum, he said, but that was the latest activity on the property.

Alcorn did not respond to several phone calls Friday.

When told there was no other bid on Wardenclyffe, Inman, who is working on other projects, said "it definitely makes it less of a 'we have to do this now.' But I still think it's a wonderful thing. I just may not have done it right now."

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