Originally written in 2011 – Updated 2021
With all recent oil panic and near nuclear meltdowns I decided to venture out to the mythical site of Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, NY (Long Island). This was the site of Nikola Tesla’s controversial “Magnifying” tower which was first designed to send radio information across the Atlantic in 1901.
In Tesla’s mind it was also capable of transmitting energy without wires. If you are unfamiliar with Tesla you must read this as a premier to get the whole picture. He conceived AC current, radio controlled robotics, cell phones, and a plethora of influential inventions (+700 patents) which set the foundations of the 20th century mad sciences. Here are a few including one for the magnifying tower.
Construction on the extensive laboratory and tower began in 1901 to become a part of Tesla’s Global System with J.P. Morgan as a primary backer. Also in 1901 Marconi successfully transmitted a radio signal across the Atlantic by using patents Tesla had invented although Tesla received no credit until after his death.
According to a 1904 NY Times article, Tesla received the land for free to help develop a wireless radio resort community and had plans of putting similar towers in population areas. He claimed that the magnifying transmitter would be able to emit a wave complex of 10 million horsepower.
By 1903 the tower stood 187 feet high and was visible from New Haven, Connecticut across the sound. There were accounts that year of the tower briefly being turned on and bolts lighting up the night sky from the top of the tower. People noticed electrical sparks from their feet to the ground when they walked nearby. There are tanks in the main building which were reportedly used as massive batteries.
As the ambitious prototype neared completion Morgan backed out of the funding. Historians speculate that this was due to Tesla’s philosophy of giving electricity away for free and there was no way to “put a meter” on what Tesla had planned.
“Homes, farms, offices, factories, villages, libraries, museums, street lights, etc., could all be powered wireless and produce brilliant white light 24 hours a day. Motor energy for any industrial applications, transportation, tractors, trucks, trains, boats, automobiles, air ships or planes could be powered freely-anywhere on the planet from a single Magnifying Transmitter.”
Without Morgan the entire laboratory was in jeopardy. Tesla secretly mortgaged off the property to the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria to cover debts of $20,000 dollars. By 1917 they had the tower blown up for scrap. The site changed hands a few times over the years.
What remains is very perplexing and mysterious. The site was taken over by AGFA in the 1960s and they proceeded to poison the site with photo chemical toxins. It is now posted as restricted Superfund site although it was supposedly cleaned up by 1993. I also discovered it is currently for sale for $1.65 million dollars “as is”. The complex has 14 buildings on 15 acres. The original low brick building with the ornate smokestack which was designed by Stanford White is partially still there. The site of the huge tower is a strange octagon shape which is fabled to have honeycombs of tunnels and dormant spiral staircases beneath. Depressing rusted barbed wire surrounds everything.
As I walked around the lonely perimeter I was struck by the concept that this is where the 20th century branched off in the wrong direction. We’ve built a superstructure on dwindling commodities that we are fatally dependent upon from food distribution to heating our homes. Telsa’s execution may have been premature, but the concept of free energy transmission is profound given our current global circumstances. To think that this lost dream collapsed over a century ago is disturbing. The deeper you look into it the more you realize that Tesla knew things we still cannot comprehend. To go forward you must look back. The greatest scientific achievements are giant leaps of faith.
UPDATE: LABOR DAY 2012.
It appears as though an Animator has managed to Crowdsource saving Wardenclyffe and transforming it into a Science Museum. A small non-profit tried for 15+ years to perserve the site, so this is quite an amazing achievement. Tesla’s ghost is out there somewhere embracing the idea that only the internet will accelerate sustainable energy.
UPDATE: JUNE 2016
For more information go to The Telsa Science Center’s Website