Julian: The electricity that powers this lamp, the technology in your radio and these x-rays are all products that sprang from the mind of one of America’s greatest inventors. But there’s a good chance you’ve probably never even heard of Nikola Tesla.
Chris Wesselborg, Physicist: The anecdote has that Tesla came to this country with a letter in his pocket from his employer who charmingly told Edison, Tesla’s future employer, that he knew two men who he felt were great geniuses, and one of them was Edison, the receiver of the letter, and the other one was the young man standing in front of him.
Julian: So, why do we know the name Edison but not necessarily Tesla? Let’s start at the beginning.
Born in the mid 1850′s, in what is now Croatia, Nikola Tesla moved to the United States in 1884 with just 4 cents in his pocket. Tesla began working for another well-known American inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison. Edison offered to pay Tesla $50,000 if he could fix his company’s generators – a task that Edison thought would be impossible – but not for the young genius. After months of work, Nikola Tesla managed to fix the problem.
Mary Daum, Treasurer of Tesla Science Center: And when he was done and asked to be paid, Edison said, ‘Oh you don’t understand what it’s like here in the United States. That was all a joke, you lose.’ And Tesla ended up digging ditches in New York City.
Julian: But it wasn’t long before Tesla was back in a lab developing a more efficient system for generating electricity. It’s called the alternate current, or AC system. And it used smaller wires, higher voltages and could travel over longer distances.
AC electricity was a direct challenge to Edison’s direct current system, which would have required a power plant every square mile.
The discovery led to a ‘war of currents’ between Edison and Tesla. After a bitter battle between the two inventors, Tesla’s superior system won out and today, the AC system is used to power homes around the globe.
If we didn’t have electricity this world would look very different.
Tesla was actually a famous scientist during his time. But he was odd, even eccentric, and not particularly business-savvy. He ended up dying alone and broke. And today his genius has been almost forgotten.
You would think with all of Nikola Tesla’s contributions to the world, there’d be many science centers named after him. Turns out, that’s not the case.
Mary: One of the reasons we really want to save this is this is not only the last laboratory where Tesla worked in the United States; it’s the last place in the world.
Julian: Mary is part of a non-profit organization hoping to build the first Tesla Science Center in the engineer’s final laboratory – now an abandoned building on Long Island, New York that was recently put up for sale.
Mary Daum: When we realized that we needed a lot of money in a big hurry, somebody suggested that we get in contact with this guy that has a blog and webpage called The Oatmeal.
Julian: Matthew Inman is a Seattle-based website creator and no stranger to fundraising. He’s also a huge Tesla fan. So he launched a campaign to raise the $1.6 million needed to purchase the New York property.
Jane Alcorn: He was a great catalyst in this!
Mary: We sat in front of our computers hitting the refresh button just to watch the numbers go up and we got to half-a-million dollars in about a day and a half.
Julian: And with a promise by the state of New York to match up to $850,000, it took just six days for Tesla supporters to reach their goal.
Jane Alcorn: The contributions to saving the property have come from over 102 countries and over 23,000 people.
Mary: And what’s absolutely phenomenal to us is that Tesla was all about wireless energy and wireless transmission, and the way this whole campaign has gone is…people on Twitter…people on Facebook…Tesla would have loved it. He would have loved it!
Julian: Julian Dujarric, Channel One News.