Sparks Fly as Tesla Museum Receives $1 Million Donation From Elon Musk

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Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, waves during a news conference to mark the company's delivery of the first batch of electric cars to Chinese customers in Beijing on April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Yesterday marked what would have been inventor Nikola Tesla’s 158th birthday. He received quite the posthumous gift. Live Science reports $1 million funding from entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car company Tesla Motors, Inc., will provide significant developments to the Tesla Science Center. Musk has also promised to install a supercharging station for Tesla Motors’s electric cars on the grounds of the future museum, the only station to date on Long Island.

The museum will be built at the late inventor’s laboratory in Wardenclyffe, New York. The 15-acre site is also where Tesla built the 187-foot transmission tower he used to experiment with wireless electricity transmissions. The revamped plans for the Tesla Science Center include a "hacker laboratory" where science enthusiasts can construct prototypes of their own inventions. Entrepreneurs will also have the chance to turn their ideas into products at the museum at “the innovation station.”

Jane Alcorn, a representative from the Tesla Science Center, told Newsweek that Musk's donation will be allocated to reconstruct Tesla's original laboratory. Restoring the tower and Tesla's laboratory are but a fraction of a plan to revamp the entire 16 acres, a project that will cost more than $50 million over the next few years depending on funds. The lab alone will cost up to $10 million to complete. "We want to make it true to Tesla's time, but also meet building codes and make it as energy-efficient as possible," she said.

In 2012, the museum was in danger of being sold to developers unless they could come up with $850,000 to secure the property. The Tesla Science Center then took to Facebook, soliciting the help of donors and personalities for help (David Bowie, who played Tesla in The Prestige, was considered). Online comic creator Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal got in touch with the museum after he released a cartoon claiming that Tesla was “the greatest geek who ever lived.” Alcorn says: "Matt was the catalyst. Without him we wouldn't be here today."

The Tesla Science Center then partnered with The Oatmeal in a campaign to raise funds to save the Wardenclyffe site. The Indiegogo campaign surpassed its initial goal of $850,000 needed, racking up $1.37 million after just nine days. Earlier this week, Inman tweeted about a call he had with Musk along with Alcorn and Gene Genova, Vice President of the Tesla Science Center. He had asked Musk to donate toward the completion of the museum, and Musk replied that he was happy to help.

Currently the museum is developing several fundraising projects to raise the rest of the funds necessary to complete the project. The latest endeavor is entitled “Buy a brick for Nik.” The campaign, which lets people have bricks inscribed, will help to raise money for future work on the museum.

The Serbian-American inventor had special ties to New York. The intersection of 40th street and Avenue of the Americas was named the Nikola Tesla Corner in 1994, honoring Tesla’s affection for feeding pigeons in nearby Bryant Park. The eccentric inventor was said to develop romantic love for an all-white pigeon, which allegedly whose death supposedly had a profound impact on the inventor.  

Tesla is credited for helping make the alternating current electrical system standard and pioneering major developments that led to the invention of the lightbulb, radio waves and X-rays, for which he went unrecognized. Now he’s getting some long overdue credit for his contributions to science.

Additionally, local officials have declared July 10, the inventor’s birthday, “Tesla Day” in New York State, in addition to Suffolk County, Brookhaven Town and Shoreham Village in Long Island. 

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