- Associated Press - Sunday, August 26, 2012

SHOREHAM, N.Y. — A jolt of support from a popular Web cartoonist has re-energized a decades-long effort to restore a decrepit, 110-year-old laboratory once used by Nikola Tesla, a visionary scientist who was a rival of Thomas Edison and imagined a world of free electricity.

In little more than a week, tens of thousands of donors from more than 100 countries have kicked more than $1 million through a social media fundraising website to pay for the restoration of Tesla’s Wardenclyffe laboratory, located about 65 miles east of New York.

A small band of followers who have struggled to establish a science and research museum and learning center in his honor are giddy with delight about the lightning-quick response they have received.

“Enormously, overwhelmingly, astounding,” is how Jane Alcorn, president of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe and a retired school librarian, described her feelings about the project’s newfound fortune. The nonprofit formed about 17 years ago had managed to secure a state matching grant of $850,000 but had amassed only about $50,000 for the project. Its goal at times seemed insurmountable.

Then this summer Ms. Alcorn learned that Matthew Inman, a cartoonist who runs the Oatmeal website, posted a tribute to the scientist headlined “Why Nicola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived.” Supporters of the Long Island effort reached out to Mr. Inman, a 27-year-old who lives in Seattle, and he and Ms. Alcorn began speaking.

Last week, he posted a request for donations on Indiegogo, a fundraising website, and the response was nearly instantaneous. At 6 p.m. on Aug. 15, the plea went out, and before Ms. Alcorn went to bed that night, donors had given nearly a quarter-million dollars.

“I was blown away by that,” Ms. Alcorn said. “I kept refreshing the page and refreshing the page and the number kept going up. I went to bed after 1 that night, but I didn’t really get any sleep, to be honest.”

Mr. Inman, who is in Japan this week on business, told the Associated Press that he thinks “Tesla would be very pleased to see this many people kind of worshipping him as this geek hero” and backing it up with credit card donations by the thousands to restore his lab.

Tesla amassed hundreds of patents for his discoveries over his lifetime. Among his most notable accomplishments are his work in developing alternating current and other research in the creation of wireless communication and radio. He worked for Edison in the 1880s but later became a rival. Tesla died in New York in 1943.

For about 15 years in the early 1900s, Tesla worked at the lab in Shoreham designed by noted architect Stanford White. He conducted experiments with wireless electricity and erected a 187-foot tower that Ms. Alcorn said was to be the centerpiece of a worldwide communications and energy system. But after he lost funding for the project, it was torn down in 1917.

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