by Andrew K. Arnett

We love our modern day contrivances but what is without doubt most indispensable is our beloved internet. The World Wide Web. Our Broad band. Woe is he who must wander this wasteland with no WIFI. It is a wonder to think that mankind lived without it, somehow toiling along in those dark ages that were, really, not too long ago.

The internet, as far as a way of life for the masses is concerned, is really not much older than 25 years. But long before Al Gore “invented” the internet, or even claimed he did, another chap, a true genius in fact, conceived of the idea for a World Wide Web.

That genius was a gentleman by the name of Nikola Tesla, oft overlooked in our history lessons yet, nonetheless, the true father of what we call ‘modern life,’ for good or ill.

It was as early as 1893 when Tesla began musing upon the idea for a “World Wireless System” transmitted by “terrestrial resonance.” This was to be a telecommunication system not unlike our own modern day internet, and totally wireless. The ways and means was through transferring power by Earth’s conductivity for transmission of electrical currents.

“As soon as completed,” Tesla stated, “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.”

Not only that, he wanted to power everything by transmitting electricity through the Earth itself, routing it through receiving stations around the world. He claimed, “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.”

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.

This prehistoric blueprint for the Blue Tooth was completely unheard of at the time and must have sounded like pure magic to the layman, if not utter mumbo jumbo. But Tesla was not light in the head. He was just light on coin. Hell, the man invented the alternating current (AC) induction motor that helped electrify America and the whole world. That should be good enough for something. And it was.

Tesla began circling the Shark Tank for investment money, wining and dining potential financial suitors at fancy New York eateries like Delmonico’s, The Players Club, and the Waldorf-Astoria’s Palm Garden, just downstairs in the hotel he was living at the time. There, he met George Westinghouse, who Tesla had already made a fortune for with his invention of the AC induction motor.

Tesla told Westinghouse, “Meet me on some fair terms in furnishing me the machinery, retaining the ownership of the same and interesting yourself to a certain extent.” Westinghouse didn’t bite, but did lend Tesla $6000 and put him on to some of the top venture capitalists of the time, including Henry O. Havemeyer, Thomas Fortune Ryan and John Jacob Astor, all of whom declined though Astor plunked down for 500 shares in Tesla’s new company.

In November of 1900, Tesla met with financier J.P. Morgan, who turned out to be his own “Mr. Wonderful.” Morgan agreed to put up $150,000 for development and construction of Tesla’s wireless station out on Shoreham, Long Island. The agreement signed included Morgan retaining 51% interest in the company as well as a 51% stake in Tesla’s present and future patents developed through the project.

A shark, of course, will be a shark.

In 1901, construction broke ground on the Wardenclyffe Tower at Tesla’s laboratory on Shoreham, Long Island. At its most advanced stage of completion, the tower stood 187-feet high. At the top sat a 55-ton steel hemispherical structure, 68 feet in diameter.

In the ground below, a 120-foot deep well was dug and an “iron root system,” consisting of tunnels, was said to exist. Supposedly, 100 foot long tunnels emanated from the well towards the south, east, west and north. A documentary film crew, in 2017, using ground-penetrating radar confirmed the existence of the tunnels beneath the tower.

However, a few years in and the project began to run out of funds.

Tesla went back to J.P. Morgan to request more dough but the banker refused to give him any more bread. There was, you see, some competition with the inventor Guglielmo Marconi who had recently made waves by sending reports from the America’s Cup yacht races off the coast of Long Island to New York City with his radio-based wireless invention. Morgan was concerned that Tesla’s invention could not compete with Marconi’s system, and Tesla was getting into deeper and deeper debt.

Morgan’s refusal to extend the investment effectively put the kibosh on Tesla’s dream project, and the world would have to wait another full century before they could post cat videos on Facebook.

Tearing down Wardenclyffe Tower at Shoreham, L.I. (1917)

One night, in a huff, Tesla threw all the switches on at Wardenclyffe and it is said that brilliant flashes and bolts of lightning shot off into the skies for the next few days. A newspaper quoted Tesla commenting on the lights, stating that if people were “awake at other times would have seen even stranger things.”

Stranger things indeed. The New York Sun reported: “For a time, the air was filled with blinding streaks of electricity, which seemed to shoot off into the darkness on some mysterious errand.”

Latter day conspiracy theorists claim it was some early forerunner to HAARP but no one is really sure, shrouded in mystery as it were, like its doomed inventor. Tesla was mum on what was going on. And then he was gone, abandoning his lab and tower in 1906, never to be used again.

Ten years later, deep in debt, Tesla had the tower demolished, netting him $1,750 from the salvage company.

Tesla never recovered from the debacle, eventually moving into a series of New York City hotel rooms, dying penniless in 1943.

And what became of the property where once stood Wardenclyffe Tower? It was foreclosed in 1922 and eventually bought by the AGFA Corporation in 1969. In 2009, AGFA put the property up for sale for $1.6 million. The campaign “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum” crowd funded the cash to buy the property, with the help of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, with a donation to the tune of $1 million dollars.

The property is now owned by the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe with plans to build a science and technology museum on the grounds at Shoreham, Long Island.