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Crazy Facts About Tesla’s Tower on Long Island

Nikola Tesla chose a site in Shoreham for his visionary experiment to distribute electricity and information wirelessly in the early 20th century.

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Left photo: Unknown author / Public domain. Right photo: Tower standing: Unknown author(Life time: Unattributed) / Public domain.

Around the turn of the century, potato farmers on the east end of Long Island along the North Shore could be seen driving their products past the looming tower of scientific achievement that was Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower. Possibly confused or ignorant of the basic principles of the science - as was Tesla’s dramatic nature to wax wistfully of the philosophical implications of his project without much hard evidence to back it up - the farmers probably shook their heads in disbelief at what was happening in their backyards.


What Tesla hoped to achieve was very clear: wireless communication and distribution of electricity by using the earth’s surface as a conducting and transferring method. (Sounds slightly familiar.) How he hoped to accomplish this, or if it was feasible, will never be known as the project was doomed to fail, embattled by his increasing competition with fellow inventor Guglielmo Marconi and ultimately, financial strain.


It became his scientific and fiscal downfall.


Regardless, Tesla’s grand experiment on Long Island has attracted serious scientists and physics buffs from across the globe who were actually successful in this century in preserving Tesla’s legacy.


In the intervening years, Tesla has become sort of a cult figure and icon. He is considered a visionary genius whose inventions are profoundly influential to this day and pioneered advances in radio, television, motors, robotics and electricity. His connection to Long Island has also become more well-known.


Here we present some crazy facts and history about Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower in Shoreham on Long Island.



  • Tesla’s idea was speculative and revolutionary: a global, wireless system for communication and power transfer by using the Earth’s conductivity for transmission of electrical currents
  • The tower was a prototype for his telecommunications system similar to the modern internet but totally wireless - considered nearly impossible at the time
  • He envisioned the system to be a “World Wireless System” transmitted by “terrestrial resonance”
  • Tesla described how the tower would work in this way, similar to today’s world wide web: “As soon as completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere.”
  • He also proposed the transmission of electricity through the Earth to be picked up by receiving stations around the world saying, “More important than all of this, however, will be the transmission of power, without wires, which will be shown on a scale large enough to carry conviction.”
  • Wireless transmission of energy was a lifelong obsession of Tesla’s
  • Construction of the Wardenclyffe facility began in 1901
  • Tesla purchased 200 acres of land in Shoreham from a land developer named James S. Warden who was constructing a resort community known as Wardenclyffe-On-Sound
  • The tower was 187-feet high, with a 55-ton steel hemispherical structure at the top, which was 68 feet in diameter
  • A 120-foot deep well was dug below the tower
  • The well was 12-foot square, lined with 8-foot timbers
  • There was a spiral staircase built into the well
  • Tunnels were supposedly built emanating from the bottom of the well 100 feet to the north, south, east and west
  • In 1902 the Patchogue Advance reported that “the particular use to which all this is to be put is one of the mysteries of the wireless system”
  • In 1902, The Port Jefferson Echo reported that the project at Wardenclyffe “marks the beginning of the real war between Marconi and Nikola Tesla”
  • In 1902, Tesla moved his lab from New York City to the new lab in Shoreham

Design and tragedy

  • Architect, Stanford White designed the laboratory on the property
  • The lab was designed in an Italian Renaissance style
  • White famously designed Washington Square Arch in 1889
  • The tower was designed by W.D. Crow, one of White’s associates
  • White was involved in an affair with teenaged actress Evelyn Nesbit
  • He was murdered by Harry Kendall Thaw, son of a Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron, who became Thaw’s wife after the affair ended
  • The murder trial became infamous and was dubbed “The Trial of the Century" in the press

Left photo:  Stanford White. George Cox / Public domain. Right photo: Evelyn Nesbit. Gertrude Käsebier / Public domain. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925.


Financial Downfall

  • In response to the success of Guglielmo Marconi’s long-range radio transmissions (which Tesla through would be physically impossible) he decided he needed to scale up the tower’s abilities
  • He wanted to add wireless power transmission to the project
  • Tesla’s financial backer was J. P. Morgan, who refused any additional investments
  • Morgan’s refusal became the death toll for Tesla’s dream project
  • Investors saw the proven successes of Marconi’s experiments as a safe bet over Tesla’s unproven ideas
  • Soon after, newspapers reported that the Wardenclyffe tower brilliantly shot off flashes of lighting into the sky for the next few nights
  • The New York Sun reported that “for a time, the air was filled with blinding streaks of electricity, which seemed to shoot off into the darkness on some mysterious errand”
  • Tesla was quoted in the paper as saying that if people were awake “at other times would have seen even stranger things”
  • Tesla did not explain why this was or what they were trying to accomplish with the display
  • Wardenclyffe never operated again after that
  • It was abandoned in 1906 and never became fully operational
  • In 1917, the unfinished tower was demolished and sold for scrap to pay Tesla’s debts
  • It is said that the salvage company made  $1,750 from the demolition
  • The tower’s failure proved to be Tesla’s financial and scientific downfall
  • Sadly, Tesla died penniless in a New York City hotel room in 1943

Photo: Attributed to the “American Press Association” / Public domain. This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1925, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal.



  • Rumors surrounded the demolition of the property including the idea that it was destroyed by the U.S. Government to prevent it from being used by German spies during WWI
  • The property was foreclosed on in 1922
  • The property changed hands a few times over the years for commercial use
  • AGFA Corporation, a photography company, bought the property and used it from 1969 to 1992
  • In 2009, AGFA put the property up for sale for $1,650,000

Past Preservation Efforts

  • In 1976, a plaque from Yugoslavia was installed on the property to honor Tesla’s 120th birthday
  • The sign was stolen in 2009
  • In 1976, an application was made to list the main building on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). It failed
  • Wardenclyffe was unused for almost twenty years, until the property drew the interest of board members of a science museum in nearby Shoreham-Wading River High School
  • Amazingly after all those decades, the brick laboratory still stood as well as the base of Tesla’s tower

Photo: 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.


Famous Fundraiser and Preservation

  • AGFA put the property up for sale for $1.6 million
  • In August 2012, cartoonist Matt Inman joined a grassroots effort to purchase the property and convert it into a museum
  • The campaign was called “Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum” on the Indiegogo crowdfunding site
  • The campaign was a success, raising $1.37 million
  • Elon Musk, Tesla Motors CEO, gave a $1 million donation for the effort
  • In May 2013, the organization that began with the school science board successfully purchased Wardenclyffe
  • In 2016, the American Physical Society deemed Wardenclyffe as an historic site in physics
  • In 2018, the property was finally listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe

  • The property is now owned by the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, a non-profit organization established to restore the site and ultimately develop a science and technology center and museum on the grounds
  • The museum runs a virtual science center hosting web-based educational programs among other programs and events
  • The People’s Republic of Serbia gifted a statue of Tesla to the museum that now sits on its grounds
  • In 2017, a film crew used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the existence of a series of long-rumored tunnels stretching for hundreds of feet underneath the Wardenclyffe facility
  • The original purpose of these tunnels remains a mystery to this day
  • Wardenclyffe is the last existing place where Nikola Tesla lived, brainstormed and built inventions, according to the museum