A new statue of Nikola Tesla now graces
New York's Long Island, the latest homage
to the celebrated visionary. At the statue's
unveiling last week, Serbian President
Tomislav Nikolic told the dedication crowd
at Tesla's former Wardenclyffe laboratory
that the scientist and inventor had been a
man whose "ideas were larger than his
Long overshadowed in public memory by his
one-time employer, Thomas Edison, Tesla
(1856-1943) was a brilliant scientist and
engineer who earned more than 700 patents.
He is most famous for developing alternating
current, but his work also led to advances in
wireless communications, lasers, x-rays, radar,
lighting, robotics, and much more.
"A lot of people nowadays are more interested
in Tesla," said Jane Alcorn, a retired teacher
who is president of the Tesla Science Center at
Wardenclyffe , home to the new statue. "He
speaks to those who work hard but don't get
recognition, and people are starting to
recognize how important his contributions
As a sign of that growing appreciation, Elon
Musk's start-up electric car company Tesla
Motors was named after the visionary inventor
in 2003. (See "Musk's Hyperloop Plan Draws
Tesla was born to Serbian parents in what is
now Croatia, but he emigrated to the U.S. as a
young man, where he eventually became a
naturalized citizen. Besides Edison, who later
became his bitter rival, Tesla often worked
with inventor George Westinghouse. In 1893,
the pair demonstrated their advances in
lighting and motors in the "White City" at the
Chicago World's Fair. In 1895, Tesla and
Westinghouse developed the world's first
hydroelectric power plant, at Niagara Falls.
At the turn of the century, Tesla set up a
laboratory called Wardenclyffe in the small
community of Shoreham, Long Island, where
he conducted some of his most ambitious
experiments. The building was financed by J. P.
Morgan and designed by acclaimed architect
Stanford White .
The most prominent feature was Wardenclyffe
Tower, also called Tesla Tower, a 187-foot-tall
(57-meter-tall) metal lattice tower topped with
a big, bulbous antenna that was intended to
beam communications and even energy across
The tower is long gone, but the three-quarter-
length statue of Tesla unveiled last week is a
fitting memorial, said Alcorn. "This is the last
remaining Tesla laboratory anywhere in the
world," she said.
It took years for Alcorn's nonprofit to buy the
property, with some help from an Internet
cartoonist (see below).
Tesla ran out of money while building the
tower and was foreclosed on twice. As with his
previous Colorado Springs lab, assets were sold
to pay down his debts. In 1917, the U.S.
government blew up the tower, fearing that
German spies were using it in World War I. The
metal was sold for scrap, according to Alcorn.
For decades, the building was used for photo
Today, the octagonal concrete and granite base
of the tower remains. There may be remnants
of the giant tesla coil that was placed below
ground, Alcorn said, although she hasn't yet
raised the money to look for the remnants
with ground-penetrating radar.
Alcorn hopes to open the lab building as a
museum to Tesla and as an educational science
center for the area.
Here are a few surprising facts about Nikola
1. The Tesla museum was helped by a
In May, Wardenclyffe was purchased by the
Tesla Science Center, using $1.37 million
raised on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo
(New York State then provided a matching
grant). The campaign was launched by Matthew
Inman, creator of the popular web comic The
At the statue unveiling last week, Inman told
the crowd that the money was raised by
"geeks" who felt kinship with Tesla, a "geek at
Perhaps building on that success, a separate
Kickstarter campaign raised $127,000 from
722 backers to create a seven-foot tall statue
of Tesla for Palo Alto, California, to be
unveiled December 7, 2013. Hosting a free Wi-
Fi hotspot and a time capsule, the statue is
intended to "represent the power of the
creative spirit and will inspire people from
around the world to focus on humanity's
2. Tesla was an environmentalist.
According to Alcorn, Tesla was "very
concerned about the fact that we were using
up the Earth's resources too quickly, and he
wanted to make sure that we were using
nonfossil, renewable fuels."
So Tesla researched ways to harvest the natural
energy in the ground and in the sky. He
created artificial lightning in his lab, and
probed electrical potential differences in the
Earth and across tall objects.
J. P. Morgan reportedly took exception to that
line of research, arguing that he wasn't
interested in funding a power source that he
3. Tesla died a broke humanitarian.
"Tesla did what he did for the betterment of
humanity, to help people have a better quality
of life," said Alcorn. "He never seemed to be
interested in monetary gain, although a
possible downside of that was he never seemed
to have enough money to do what he needed
Tesla had famous friends, including Mark Twain
and French actress Sarah Bernhardt, but he
struggled financially. Edison and Westinghouse
were much more successful businessmen,
which partly explains the strength of their
4. Tesla rarely slept and suffered from OCD.
Tesla claimed to have required only two hours
of sleep a night, although he occasionally
napped. He loathed jewelry and round objects
and wouldn't touch hair. He was obsessed with
the number three and polished every dining
implement he used to perfection, using 18
5. Many of Tesla's inventions were
When Tesla died in 1943, during World War II,
the Office of Alien Property took his
belongings, Alcorn said. Most of his things
were later released to his family, and many
ended up in the Tesla Museum in Belgrade,
which opened in the 1950s. But some of
Tesla's papers are still classified by the U.S.
"I know people have requested things through
the Freedom of Information Act, and they are
released heavily redacted," said Alcorn.
As a result of the years of secrecy, many
people have speculated about what fantastic
inventions might have been suppressed,
perhaps to keep them out of enemy hands or,
more darkly, to perpetuate the status quo.
Perhaps supporting the former theory, Tesla
had spoken publically about working on a
" death beam." Those who fear the latter theory
often point to his work on harvesting the
energy in the forces of nature as something
that would upset powerful oil companies.
For her part, Alcorn said she is inspired by
both the genius and the perseverance of Tesla.
"He taught us that when you believe in
yourself, work on your goals, and follow
through, a lot is possible," she said.
5 Surprising Facts About Nikola Tesla, The brilliant inventor gets a new statue in Long Island.
A new statue of Nikola Tesla now graces