Construction begins on Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower
Nikola Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility ca.
1898, and in 1901, construction began on the land near Long Island Sound. Architect Stanford White designed the Wardenclyffe facility main building. The tower was designed by W.D. Crow, an associate of White. Funding for Tesla's project was provided by influential industrialists and other venture capitalists. The project was initially backed by the wealthy J. P. Morgan who had invested $150,000 in the facility, (more than $3 million in 2009 dollars).
In June 1902, Tesla moved his laboratory operations from his Houston Street laboratory to Wardenclyffe. However, in 1903, when the tower structure was near completion, it was still not yet functional due to last-minute design changes. Tesla intended for the tower to demonstrate how electrical energy could be transmitted without the need for power lines. A story has arisen that the power consumption could not be metered and Morgan, who could not foresee any financial gain from providing free electricity to everyone, balked. Construction costs eventually exceeded the money provided by Morgan, and additional financiers were reluctant to come forward. (Tesla's other major financier was John Jacob Astor.) By July 1904, Morgan (and the other investors) finally decided they would not provide any additional financing. Morgan also discouraged other investors from backing the project. In May 1905, Tesla's patents on alternating current motors and other methods of power transmission expired, halting royalty payments and causing a severe reduction of funding to the Wardenclyffe Tower. In an attempt to find alternative funding, Tesla advertised the services of the Wardenclyffe facility, but he met with little success. By this time, Tesla had also designed the Tesla turbine at Wardenclyffe and produced Tesla coils for sale to various businesses.
By 1905, since Tesla could not find any more backers, most of the site's activity had to be shut down. Employees were laid off in 1906, but parts of the building remained in use until 1907. In 1908, the property was foreclosed for the first time. Tesla procured a new mortgage from George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The facility was partially abandoned around 1911, and the tower structure deteriorated. Between 1912 and 1915, Tesla's finances unraveled, and when the funders wanted to know how they were going to recapture their investments, Tesla was unable to give satisfactory answers. Newspaper headlines of the time labeled it "Tesla's million-dollar folly." The facility's main building was breached and vandalized around this time. Collapse of the Wardenclyffe project may have contributed to the mental breakdown Tesla experienced during this period. Coupled to the personal tragedy of Wardenclyffe was the 1895 fire at 35 South 5th Avenue, New York, in the building which housed Tesla's laboratory. In this fire, he lost much of his equipment, notes and documents. This produced a state of severe depression for Tesla.
As soon as [the Wardenclyffe facility is] 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 will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. ”— Nikola Tesla