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The Fascinating Story of Wardenclyffe Tower, Tesla's Mysterious Project

Ravi loves writing within the realm of relationships, history, and the bizarre—where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower laboratory

Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower laboratory

Nikola Tesla Was an Aberration

If you combine brilliance, egoism, and unusualness, you get Nikola Tesla. The man was undoubtedly an aberration in the world of science.

And he believed his mind to be without equal as he wrote a scalding comment about Thomas Alva Edison, his bitter rival.

“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.”

And this ‘little theory and calculations’ obsession of Tesla went all the way back up to the Egyptian pyramids. Yes, one of his beliefs was that the Great Pyramids of Egypt were giant transmitters of energy. And he built his famous Tesla tower(Wardenclyffe Tower) inspired by studying the pyramids.

In 1905, Tesla filed a patent in the U.S. titled ‘The art of transmitting electrical energy through the natural medium.’ The patent spoke about a unique design consisting of a series of generators around the world that would tap the ionosphere for energy collection.

The design highlighted planet Earth itself, with its two poles, as a giant electrical generator of limitless energy. His triangle-shaped design became known as Tesla's electromagnetic pyramid which finally culminated in his famous Tesla tower (Wardenclyffe Tower).

It was a bold design envisaged by Tesla, by the creation of a tower that could deliver electricity, without wires, to the whole world absolutely free of cost.

A Tower That Could Deliver Free Electricity to All

Tesla initially tested his idea of generating wireless electricity by creating small electrical arcs in his laboratory at Pike’s Peak that was essentially man-made lightning, seen for miles. Tesla proved using the invention of electric arcs that he could wirelessly light electric bulbs for a large distance.

This attracted the attention of J.P. Morgan who offered to finance Tesla’s ambitious wireless power project. With Morgan’s investment, Tesla immediately set to work, buying a 200-acre plot of land on one end of Long Island (New York).

He hired a prestigious architect, Stanford White and together they designed a 187-feet high wooden tower with a giant ball on top, 68 feet in diameter, made of steel, which was nothing but a massive magnifying transmitter also known as a high-power harmonic oscillator.

The tower named Wardenclyffe tower was anchored more than 300 feet into the ground. In the ground below, there were said to be tunnels and an “iron root system” that went deep into the earth.

The energy was created by traditional means of generation, but Tesla’s tower was intended to make it possible for anyone to transmit the power for free by creating a channel between the Earth and the ionosphere above.

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Equipment at the Wardenclyffe Tower facility, an early wireless transmission station in Shoreham, Long Island, New York State

Equipment at the Wardenclyffe Tower facility, an early wireless transmission station in Shoreham, Long Island, New York State

Tesla Was Unsuccessful

For Tesla, this tower was the beginning. He had envisaged a network of such towers across the world that will allow him to send electricity through the atmosphere, which anyone with the correct equipment could tap into. As Tesla said.

“Electric power would be ubiquitous. I will make “the whole of this globe…quiver.”

But Tesla underestimated the cost and he soon ran out of money. An appeal to Morgan went unanswered as Morgan did not want to put any more money into this ‘fantastic’ enterprise as he called it.

Perhaps J.P. Morgan was threatened by the prospect of ‘free energy’. After all, he was a businessman as well as a capitalist whose work centered around profiting from others.

In the meantime, investors were rushing to throw their money behind Guglielmo Marconi who had successfully sent a signal from England to Newfoundland by transmitting the letter “S” in Morse code across the ocean. It was an era of financial uncertainty and investors preferred to put money in the proven Marconi system rather than Tesla’s utopian dream.

Can We Ever Live Tesla’s Unfinished Dream?

Tesla did not give up. He put in his own money and completed Wardenclyffe tower and carried on investing and experimenting till 1905 waiting for his beloved tower to be up and running.

Unfortunately, Tesla never managed to make it work. His debts reached $20,000 ($478,000 in today’s money) and finally, he abandoned his dream as the press started labeling it as a ‘hoax’ of the century.

Eventually, he lost ownership of the tower as the new owner had the tower dynamited down and converted to scrap metal to recover some cost. Tesla died in 1943, in debt, heartbroken, and one of the most misunderstood figures in the history of science.

Tesla believed in his dream project right until his death as he said so in his later years.

“My project was retarded by laws of nature. The world was not prepared for it. It was too far ahead of time. But the same laws will prevail in the end and make it a triumphal success.”

Today wireless technology has become a feasible technological product but its scale has yet to reach the zenith that Tesla had envisioned by providing free energy to all. Maybe someday we can live Tesla’s unfinished dream.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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