Wardenclyffe Tower

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Coordinates: 40°56′51.3″N 72°53′53.5″W / 40.947583°N 72.898194°W / 40.947583; -72.898194

1904 image of Wardenclyffe Tower located in Shoreham, Long Island, New York

Wardenclyffe Tower, also known as the Tesla Tower, which began construction in 1901, was an early wireless transmission station designed by Nikola Tesla in Shoreham, New York and intended for commercial trans-Atlantic wireless telephony, broadcasting, and proof-of-concept demonstrations of wireless power transmission[1][2] An adjacent 94 by 94 ft (29 by 29 m) brick building beside the tower was designed by architect Stanford White[3] and housed transmission equipment/laboratory/factory floor space.

The site was named after James S. Warden, a western lawyer and banker who had purchased land for the endeavor in Shoreham, on Long Island, about 60 miles (97 km) from Manhattan. Here, he built a resort community known as Wardenclyffe-On-Sound. He offered land to Tesla for a building to house the latter's project, but funding dried up before completion and Wardenclyffe was shut down by 1905.[4]

In an attempt to satisfy Tesla's debts, the tower was demolished for scrap in 1917 and the property taken in foreclosure in 1922. For 50 years, Wardenclyffe was a processing facility producing photography supplies. Many buildings were added to the site and the land it occupies has been trimmed down to 16 acres (6.5 ha) but the original brick building remains standing to this day. In the 1980s and 2000s, hazardous waste from the photographic era was cleaned up, and the site was sold and cleared for new development. A grassroots campaign to save the site succeeded in purchasing the property in 2013, with plans to build a future museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla.


Construction and plans[edit]

Tesla Ready for Business - August 7, 1901 New-York tribune article
Tesla's Wardenclyffe plant on Long Island circa 1902 in partial stage of completion. Work on the 55-foot-diameter (17 m) cupola had not yet begun. There is a coal car parked next to the building.

Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility ca. 1898 and in 1901 construction began on the land near Long Island Sound. Architect Stanford White designed the Wardenclyffe facility main building. The tower was designed by W.D. Crow, an associate of White. Funding for Tesla's project was provided by influential industrialists and other venture capitalists. The project was initially backed by the wealthy J. P. Morgan who had invested $150,000 in the facility (more than $3 million in 2009 dollars).[3] In June 1902, Tesla moved his laboratory operations from his West Houston Street laboratory to Wardenclyffe.

Warden offered Tesla 200 acres (81 ha) of land close to a Long Island Rail Road line on which to build his wireless telecommunications tower and laboratory facility. Warden planned to eventually build housing for 2000-2500 people who would work in a factory producing Tesla's patented devices.[5]

Tesla said of the facility's proposed usage:


The project ran into many problems.[8] Financiers began investing in Guglielmo Marconi's system which started regular transatlantic transmission in 1903 and seemed to be doing it with far less expensive equipment. By 1903 Tesla's project, still under construction due to numerous design changes, ran out of money and Morgan declined to fund it any further. Some in the press began turning against the project claiming it was a hoax.[9] Tesla tried to generate more interest in Wardenclyffe by revealing its ability to transmit wireless electricity, but Morgan was not interested, and the 1903 "rich man's panic" on Wall Street dried up any further investment.[10][11][12] By July 1904, Morgan (and the other investors) finally decided they would not provide any additional financing. In May 1905, Tesla's patents on alternating current motors and other methods of power transmission expired, halting royalty payments and causing a severe reduction of funding to the Wardenclyffe Tower. In an attempt to find alternative funding Tesla advertised the services of the Wardenclyffe facility but he was met with little success. By this time Tesla had also designed the Tesla turbine at Wardenclyffe and produced Tesla coils for sale to various businesses.

By 1905, since Tesla could not find any more backers, most of the site's activity had to be shut down. Employees were laid off in 1906, but parts of the building remained in use until 1907. In 1904 Tesla took out a mortgage on the Wardenclyffe property with George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to cover Tesla's living expenses at the hotel. In 1908 Tesla procured a second mortgage from Boldt to further cover expenses.[13][14] The facility was partially abandoned around 1911, and the tower structure deteriorated. Between 1912 and 1915, Tesla's finances unraveled, and when the funders wanted to know how they were going to recapture their investments, Tesla was unable to give satisfactory answers. The March 1, 1916 edition of the publication Export American Industries ran a story titled "Tesla's Million Dollar Folly" describing the abandoned Wardenclyffe site:

The facility's main building was breached and vandalized around this time. Collapse of the Wardenclyffe project may have contributed to the mental breakdown Tesla experienced during this period.[citation needed]


Demolition of the Wardenclyffe tower started in July 1917

By 1915, with Tesla's debt at the Waldorf-Astoria being around $20,000 (about $400,000 in 2009 dollars) and unable to make any further payments on the mortgages, Boldt foreclosed on the Wardenclyffe property.[13] Boldt failed to find any use for the property and finally decided to demolish the tower for scrap. On July 4, 1917 the Smiley Steel Company of New York began demolition of the tower by dynamiting it. The tower was knocked on a tilt by the initial explosion but it took till September to totally demolish it.[16][17] The scrap value realized was $1750. Since this was during World War I a rumor spread, picked up by newspapers and other publications, that the tower was demolished on orders of the United States Government with claims German spies were using it as a radio transmitter or observation post, or that it was being used as a landmark for German submarines.[17][18] Tesla was not pleased with what he saw as attacks on his patriotism via the rumors about Wardenclyffe, but since the original mortgages with Boldt as well as the foreclosure had been kept off the public record in order to hide his financial difficulties, Tesla was not able to reveal the real reason for the demolition.[16][17][19]

George Boldt decided to make the property available for sale. On April 20, 1922, Tesla lost an appeal of judgment on Boldt's foreclosure. This effectively locked Tesla out of any future development of the facility.

Post-Tesla era[edit]

In 1925, the property ownership was transferred to Walter L. Johnson of Brooklyn. On March 6, 1939, Plantacres, Inc. purchased the facility's land and subsequently leased it to Peerless Photo Products, Inc.

AGFA Corporation bought the property from Peerless and used the site from 1969 to 1992 before closing the facility. The site has undergone a final cleanup of waste produced during its Photo Products era. The clean up was conducted under the scrutiny of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and paid for by AGFA.

In 2009, AGFA put the property up for sale for $1,650,000. The main building remains standing to this day; AGFA advertised that the land can "be delivered fully cleared and level." It says it spent $5 million through September 2008 cleaning up silver and cadmium.[3][20][21] A non-profit preservation organization supported by The Oatmeal purchased the land in 2013 with hopes to create a museum to Tesla there.[22]

Preservation efforts[edit]


On February 14, 1967, the nonprofit public benefit corporation Brookhaven Town Historical Trust was established. It selected the Wardenclyffe facility to be designated as a historic site and as the first site to be preserved by the Trust on March 3, 1967. The Brookhaven Town Historic Trust was rescinded by resolution on February 1, 1972. There were never any appointments made after a legal opinion was received; it was never set up properly.[23] On July 7, 1976, a plaque from Yugoslavia was installed by representatives from Brookhaven National Laboratory[24] near the entrance of the building.  It reads:[25]

Stanford White Building at the corner of Tesla Street and NY 25A (2009)


July 10, 1976

The sign was stolen from the property in November 2009. An anonymous benefactor is offering a $2000 reward if it is returned to the property.[26]

In 1976, an application was filed to nominate the main building for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). It failed to get approval. The Tesla Wardenclyffe Project, Inc. was established in 1994 for the purpose of seeking placement of the Wardenclyffe laboratory-office building and the Tesla tower foundation on both the New York State and NRHP. Its mission is the preservation and adaptive reuse of Wardenclyffe, the century-old laboratory of electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla located in Shoreham, Long Island, New York.[27] In October 1994, a second application for formal nomination was filed. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation conducted inspections and determined the facility meets New York State criteria for historic designation. A second visit was made on February 25, 2009. The site cannot be registered until it is nominated by a willing owner.

Designation of the structure as a National Landmark is awaiting completion of plant decommissioning activities by its present owner.[28]


In August 2012, concerned about an apparent offer to purchase the site and develop it for commercial use, web cartoon The Oatmeal launched a fundraiser for the Tesla Science Center to raise $1.7 million in order to purchase the property, with the hope of eventually building a museum on the grounds.[29]

Jane Alcorn, president of the nonprofit group The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, and Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, collaborated in 2012 to honor "the Father of the Electric Age", by preserving the Wardenclyffe facility as a science center and museum. They initiated the Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum fund-raising campaign on the Indiegogo crowdfunding site, to raise funding to buy the Wardenclyffe property and restore the facility. The project reached its goal of raising $850,000 within a week, after a $33,333 donation[30] from the producers of the Tesla film "Fragments from Olympus-The Vision of Nikola Tesla" more than exceeeded the requested amount. The campaign also attracted donations from benefactors such as Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla Motors.[31]

The money raised within one week was enough to get a matching grant from the state of New York, allowing the project to be able to meet the seller's asking price of $1.6 million;[31][32] the state had agreed to match donations up to half that amount.[33] Including the grant, the crowdfunding campaign raised approximately $1,700,000 in six days, with the campaign originally slated to run 45 days.[34]

As of October 3, 2012, the goal of $850,000 had been reached in just over six days after a $33,333 donation from the producers of the Tesla film Fragments From Olympus - The Vision of Nikola Tesla put them over the top. A total of $1.37 million was donated, the matching grant from the State of New York brings the total collected to over $2.2 million. The surplus will be used to fund the cleaning and restoration of the property. Tesla, Wardenclyffe and the museum fundraising effort will be the subject of a new documentary being produced called Tower to the People - Tesla's Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues.[35][36]

On May 2, 2013, The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe announced that they had purchased the acre laboratory site from Agfa Corporation and will begin to raise "about $10 million to create a science learning center and museum worthy of Tesla and his legacy."[37] On July 10, 2014, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, pledged to donate $1 million.[38]

On May 13, 2014, The Oatmeal published a comic called "What It's Like to Own a Model S, Part 2," in which he requested a further donation of $8 million from Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk in order to propel the museum toward completion.[39] The next day, Musk stated on Twitter that he "would be happy to help."[40] On July 10, 2014, during a 158th birthday celebration for Tesla at the Wardenclyffe site, it was announced that Musk would donate $1 million toward funding the museum, as well as having a Tesla Motors supercharging station installed onsite.[41]

The center plans to offer several programs, including science teacher associations, conferences, symposia, field trips, associations with science competitions, and other science programs. Planned permanent exhibits include a Tesla exhibit, exploratorium-type exhibits, and a living museum.[42] On September 23, 2013, the president of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić, unveiled a monument to Tesla at the Wardenclyffe site. Nikolić said that he had planned to push for the monument to be displayed at the United Nations, but chose Wardenclyffe once he learned it had been purchased for the center.[43]

Constituent infrastructure[edit]

Facility grounds[edit]

Artistic representation of the station completed, including the tower structure.

Wardenclyffe is located near the Shoreham Post Office and Shoreham Fire House on NY 25A in Shoreham. Wardenclyffe was divided into two main sections. The tower, which was located in the back, and the main building compose the entire facility grounds. At one time, the property was about 200 acres (0.81 km2), but has since been reduced to slightly less than 16 acres (65,000 m2).

The wood-framed tower was 186 feet (57 m) tall, the rotund cupola 68 feet (21 m) wide. It had a 55 short tons (50 t) steel (some report it was a better conducting material, such as copper) hemispherical structure at the top (referred to as a cupola). Designed by one of Stanford White's associates, the structure was such as to allow each piece to be taken out if needed and replaced as necessary. The transmitter itself was to have been powered by a 200 kilowatt Westinghouse alternating current industrial generator. Beneath the tower, a shaft sank 120 feet (37 m) into the ground. Sixteen iron pipes were placed one length after another 300 additional feet (94.4 m) in order for the machine, in Tesla's words, "to have a grip on the earth so the whole of this globe can quiver."[44]

The main building occupied the rest of the facility grounds. It included a laboratory area, instrument room, boiler room, generator room and machine shop. Inside the main building, there were electromechanical devices, electrical generators, electrical transformers, glass blowing equipment, X-ray devices, Tesla coils, a remote controlled boat, cases with bulbs and tubes, wires, cables, a library, and an office. It was constructed in the style of the Italian Renaissance.

World Wireless System[edit]

Main article: World Wireless System
The Tesla coil wireless transmitter, U.S. Patent 1,119,732

An electric current flowing through a conductor carries electrical energy. The body of the earth is an electrical conductor, nearly spherical in shape, insulated in space. It possesses an electric charge relative to the upper atmosphere beginning at about 50 kilometers elevation. When a second body, directly adjacent to Earth, is charged and discharged in rapid succession this causes an equivalent variation of Earth's electrostatic charge resulting in the passage of electric current through the ground.

The Tesla coil transmitter, both the single and dual tower forms, is an electrical machine specifically designed to create as large a displacement as possible of Earth's electric charge. It does this by alternately charging and discharging the oscillator's elevated terminal capacitance at a specific frequency, periodically altering the electrostatic charge of the earth, and consequently, with sufficient power, the electrical potential over its entire surface. "A connection to earth, either directly or through a condenser is essential."[45] The placement of a grounded Tesla coil receiver tuned to the same frequency as the transmitter at another point on the surface results in the flow of electric current through the earth between the two, while an equivalent electrical displacement occurs in the atmosphere. This current can be used at the receiver to drive an electrical load, which in the case of an individual World Wireless Telecommunications System receiver is a sensitive device using only a small amount of energy. [46]

In 1891 and 1892, Tesla demonstrated the oscillatory transformer that bears his name in lectures delivered before meetings of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) in New York City"[47] and the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) in London,[48] and in a later presentation titled "On Light and Other High Frequency Phenomena" (Philadelphia/St. Louis; Franklin Institute in 1893),[49] where he put forward his ideas on the wireless transmission of electrical energy.

Related patents[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Jazz fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth released an album named Wardenclyffe Tower in 1992,[50] with the 2007 reissue of the album featuring an image of the tower on the front cover.[51]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Anderson, Leland I., Nikola Tesla On His Work with Alternating Currents and Their Application to wireless Telegraphy, Telephony, and Transmission of Power, 21st Century Books, 2002, pp. 106, 153, 170.; Counsel, "This Wardenclyffe station was that – experimental?" Tesla, "No, it was a commercial undertaking... "
  2. ^ Massie, Walter W. & Charles R. Underhill, Wireless Telegraphy & Telephony, Van Nostrand, 1908; "The Future of the Wireless Art"
  3. ^ a b c Broad, William J. (May 4, 2009). "A Battle to Preserve a Visionary's Bold Failure". New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2009. Today, a fight is looming over the ghostly remains of that site, called Wardenclyffe – what Tesla authorities call the only surviving workplace of the eccentric genius who dreamed countless big dreams while pioneering wireless communication and alternating current. The disagreement began recently after the property went up for sale in Shoreham, N.Y. 
  4. ^ Cheney, Margaret, Robert Uth (1999), Tesla  Master of Lightning, New York: Barnes & Noble Books, ISBN 0-7607-1005-8, pp. 107.; "Unable to overcome his financial burdens, he was forced to close the laboratory in 1905."
  5. ^ The Electrical World and Engineer, September 28 1901, Volume 38, No. 13, McGraw Publishing Company, 1901, page 510
  6. ^ "The Future of the Wireless Art'"', Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony, 1908, pg. 67–71.
  7. ^ "The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires as a Means for Furthering Peace", Electrical World and Engineer, January 7, 1905.
  8. ^ Margaret Cheney , Tesla: Man Out of Time, 2011 - pages 203 - 208
  9. ^ Malanowski, Gregory, The Race for Wireless, AuthorHouse, page 35
  10. ^ Cheney, Margaret, Tesla: Man Out of Time, 2011 - pages 203 - 208
  11. ^ Childress, Hatcher Childress, The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla, 1993 - page 254
  12. ^ Burgan, Michael, Nikola Tesla: Physicist, Inventor, Electrical Engineer, 2009. page 75
  13. ^ a b Nikola Tesla on His Work with Alternating Currents and Their Application to Wireless Telegraphy, Telephony, and Transmission of Power: An Extended Interview, 21st Century Books - 2002, Appendex II, Wardenclyffe forclosure appeal proccedings
  14. ^ Tesla Universe : Timeline, Year: 1915 -Wardenclyffe Deed Surrendered
  15. ^ teslaresearch.jimdo.com printed version of Tesla's Million Dollar Folly by H. Winfield Secor, Export American Industries, March 1, 1916
  16. ^ a b Tesla Universe : Timeline, July, 4th: Wardenclyffe Tower Destroyed
  17. ^ a b c Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time, Simon and Schuster - 2011, pages 218-219
  18. ^ See U.S. Blows Up Tesla Radio Tower (1917) (citing page 293 of the September 1917 issue of The Electrical Experimenter): "SUSPECTING that German spies were using the big wireless tower erected at Shoreham, L. I., about twenty years ago by Nikola Tesla, the Federal Government ordered the tower destroyed and it was recently demolished with dynamite."
  19. ^ Margaret Cheney, Robert Uth, Jim Glenn, Tesla, Master of Lightning, Barnes & Noble Publishing - 1999, page 129
  20. ^ A Battle to Preserve a Visionary's Bold Failure – New York Times – May 4, 2009
  21. ^ "Tesla Lab: $1,650,000". New York Times. May 4, 2009. Retrieved May 5, 2009. 5 Randall Road, Shoreham, N.Y., between Tesla Court and Randall Road 
  22. ^ http://www.teslasciencecenter.org/2013/05/press-release-tesla-wardenclyffe-laboratory-purchased-for-museum/
  23. ^ Email from Brookhaven Town Historian, Barbara Russell, Mon, March 30, 2009
  24. ^ Brookhaven Bulletin, Vol. 30 No. 27, July 16, 1976
  25. ^ "168314_w407.jpg". Retrieved February 1, 2010. 
  26. ^ "Valuable Plaque Stolen From Tesla Laboratory"
  27. ^ "A MUSEUM AT WARDENCLYFFE The Creation of a Monument to Nikola Tesla". Tesla Wardenclyffe Project, Inc. Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  28. ^ Tesla, a Little-Recognized Genius, Left Mark in Shoreham – New York Times – November 10, 2002
  29. ^ "To Keep Tesla's Flame Bright, Fans Return to His Workshop", New York Times article, 2012-08-28
  30. ^ http://www.theverge.com/2012/8/21/3259130/oatmeal-tesla-museum-campaign-reaches-funding-goal
  31. ^ a b Frum, Larry (21 August 2012). "Backers raise cash for Tesla museum honoring 'cult hero'". CNN. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  32. ^ Greenfieldboyce, Nell (August 24, 2012). "Zap! Cartoonist Raises $1 Million For Tesla Museum". NPR. Retrieved August 24, 2012. 
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Tesla museum campaign exceeds fund-raising target". BBC News. 22 August 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2012. 
  35. ^ http://www.indiegogo.com/teslamuseum
  36. ^ "Web Cartoonist Raises $1 Million For Tesla Museum". NPR. August 24, 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  37. ^ Press Release: Tesla Wardenclyffe Laboratory Purchased For Museum
  38. ^ "Elon Musk Pledges $1M to Tesla Museum". TIME. July 10, 2014. Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  39. ^ [1]
  40. ^ Elon Musk Will Help Fund Tesla Museum
  41. ^ [2]
  42. ^ "About Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe". Friends of Science East, Inc. Retrieved August 23, 2012. 
  43. ^ Gabbatt, Adam; Popovich, Nadja (24 September 2013). "Serbian president unveils Nikola Tesla monument in New York". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  44. ^ Nikola Tesla On His Work With Alternating Currents and Their Application to Wireless Telegraphy, Telephony, and Transmission of Power, ISBN 1-893817-01-6, p. 203
  45. ^ Ratzlaff, John T., Tesla Said, Tesla Book Company, 1984; THE DISTURBING INFLUENCE OF SOLAR RADIATION ON THE WIRELESS TRANSMISSION OF ENERGY by Nikola Tesla, Electrical Review and Western Electrician, July 6, 1912
  46. ^ Ratzlaff, John T., Dr. Nikola Tesla  Complete Patents; System of Transmission of Electrical Energy, September 2, 1897, U.S. Patent 645,576, March 20, 1900.
  47. ^ Martin, Thomas Commerford, The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla, The Electrical Engineer, New York, 1894; "Experiments With Alternating Currents of Very High Frequency, and Their Application to Methods of Artificial Illumination," AIEE, Columbia College, N.Y., May 20, 1891
  48. ^ Martin, Thomas Commerford, The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla, The Electrical Engineer, New York, 1894; "Experiments With Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency," IEE Address, London, February 3, 1892.
  49. ^ Martin, Thomas Commerford, The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla, The Electrical Engineer, New York, 1894; "On Light and Other High Frequency Phenomena," February 24, 1893, before the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, March 1893, before the National Electric Light Association, St. Louis.
  50. ^ Gioffre, Daniel. "Wardenclyffe Tower - Allan Holdsworth". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2014-09-08.
  51. ^ "Allan Holdsworth – Wardenclyffe Tower". Discogs. Retrieved 2014-09-08.

Further reading

  • Anderson, Leland, "Rare Notes from Tesla on Wardenclyffe" in Electric Spacecraft – A journal of Interactive Research, Issue 26, September 14, 1998. Contains copies of rare documents from the Tesla Museum in Belgrade including Tesla's notes and sketches from 1901
  • Bass, Robert W., "Self-Sustained Non-Hertzian Longitudal Wave Oscillations as a Rigorous Solution of Maxwell's Equations for Electromagnetic Radiation". Inventek Enterprises, Inc., Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • "Boundless Space: A Bus Bar". The Electrical World, Vol 32, No. 19.
  • Massie, Walter Wentworth, "Wireless telegraphy and telephony popularly explained ". New York, Van Nostrand. 1908.
  • Rather, John, "Tesla, a Little-Recognized Genius, Left Mark in Shoreham". The New York Times. Long Island Weekly Desk.
  • Tesla, Nikola, "The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires", Electrical World and Engineer, March 5, 1904.
  • Tesla, Nikola, "World System of Wireless Transmission of Energy", Telegraph and Telegraph Age, October 16, 1927.

External links[edit]