Elon Musk Donates $1 Million to New Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla's Wardenclyffe Laboratory
A photo, taken in 1904, of Nikola Tesla's Wardenclyffe laboratory. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For his 158th birthday, Nikola Tesla got a day named in his honor and a new science museum with $1 million in funding from billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Musk, the CEO of electric car company Tesla Motors and rocket company SpaceX, pledged the money in support of a new Tesla museum to be built on the grounds of the Serbian-American inventor's laboratory at Wardenclyffe in Long Island, New York. The announcement was made today (July 10) at a birthday celebration on the historic site.

"We're happy to be gathered at the laboratory of Nikola Tesla, the person we've come to celebrate," a museum official said at the event. "Thank you, Elon Musk!" [See photos of Tesla's lab at Wardenclyffe]

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located on the site where Tesla once built a 187-foot (57 meters) transmitter tower to experiment with sending messages and distributing wireless electricity, will feature his inventions and their impact on people's lives today, museum organizers said. It will also include a hacker lab where people can build prototypes of their own inventions, and an innovation station where entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into real products.

Musk's donation came at the behest of Matthew Inman, creator of the Web comic "The Oatmeal." In 2012, Inman created an online comic strip arguing that Tesla was "the greatest geek who ever lived." The comic became hugely popular, and sparked a 45-day Indiegogo campaign to raise at least $850,000 to save the Wardenclyffe site from being sold to developers. The grassroots initiative ended up raising more than $1 million after only nine days.

Earlier this week, Inman and Gene Genova, vice president of the Tesla Museum, had a conference call with Musk, in which he pledged not only $1 million in funding for the museum, but also promised to build a supercharging station for Tesla Motors' electric cars at the Wardenclyffe site. Musk also challenged the museum to use its resources widely, museum representatives said.

In addition to its successful crowdfunding campaign, the museum is launching a new fundraising initiative called "Buy a brick for Nik," in which people can purchase and personally inscribe a brick that will be used in the construction of the museum and grounds.

Today's birthday festivities included songs from Tesla's time at Wardenclyffe, speeches, flag raisings and, of course, birthday cake. Also, in honor of Tesla's love of pigeons, a flock of the birds was released.

The speeches celebrated Tesla for his achievements in electric power and wireless communication. Local officials declared July 10 as "Tesla Day" in the village of Shoreham, in Long Island's Suffolk County, and "all around the world, now and forever."

When the museum organizers purchased the Wardenclyffe property in 2012, it was severely neglected, they said. It took many volunteers — many of whom were local residents — to clean up the site.

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Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.