Unusual online effort nets $1.3M to restore Tesla's lab
MINEOLA, N.Y. • A six-week Internet crowdfunding effort has raised $1.3 million to restore a New York laboratory once used by visionary scientist Nikola Tesla.
The rival of Thomas Edison imagined a world of free electricity and conducted experiments in the early 20th century at his Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham, about 65 miles east of New York City.
Volunteers on eastern Long Island had struggled for nearly two decades to raise money to acquire the property with little success until they encountered an unexpected benefactor this summer. Seattle cartoonist Matthew Inman started promoting a fundraising effort on his website, theoatmeal.com.
Within hours of posting an appeal last August on the fundraising site Indiegogo.com, donations began to accumulate by the hundreds of thousands. By last Saturday, over $1.3 million was collected from 33,000 donors in the U.S. and 108 countries.
"I always refer to Tesla as an unsung hero, but with what's happened on the Internet over the past few months, I'm not sure that's appropriate anymore," Inman said in a statement.
Indiegogo.com CEO Slava Rubin said it was the company's fastest fundraising campaign.
Jane Alcorn, president of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, declined to discuss negotiations on the group's plans to purchase the property, noting that attorneys are still investigating environmental and other concerns.
Decades after Tesla abandoned the site in 1917, it was home to a photo chemical processing plant. In 1993, officials determined that the area's groundwater had been polluted with cadmium and silver. The current property owners, Belgian-based AGFA Corp., which wasn't linked to the pollution, worked for years to decontaminate the site. State regulators deemed the remediation complete this year.
In addition to the $1.3 million raised, the science center also has an $850,000 state grant to help it purchase the property. It was listed this year for sale at $1.6 million, but a real estate official handling the sale said that figure was negotiable. Any leftover money from the property purchase will be used to help develop the envisioned science center.
"This has all been very exciting," Alcorn said. "We are very optimistic about the future and will move as quickly as we can" in acquiring the property.