Elon Musk promises $1 million for Tesla museum

Story highlights

The founder of Tesla Motors is giving $1 million to a museum for its namesake

Volunteers raised money to save the last remaining lab of inventor Nikola Tesla

They need several million more, though, to restore it and build a museum

Matthew Inman, creator of the Oatmeal, announced the donation Thursday

CNN  — 

On Nikola Tesla’s 158th birthday, it was the effort to build a museum in the influential scientist’s honor that got the gift.

Elon Musk, the magnate and inventor behind electric-car company Tesla Motors, has pledged $1 million to the Tesla Science Center in Shoreham, New York, on the site of Wardenclyffe, Tesla’s only remaining laboratory.

And it’s all due, at least in large part, to an appeal from a webcomic creator.

Matthew Inman, whose comic and website the Oatmeal draws millions of readers each month, wrote Thursday that he had spoken to Musk and confirmed the pledge.

“So, I had a call with Elon Musk earlier this week …” Inman wrote on his site.

He said Musk, who named his car company as a tribute to the inventor, told him two things during the phone call: that he would install a Tesla charging station in the museum’s parking lot and that he’ll donate the million to the effort to fully restore and operate it.

Jane Alcorn, president of the Tesla Science Center, announced the pledge at a birthday party at the center on Thursday.

“(Musk) has challenged us at the center to use our resources wisely, find additional resources, and reach our goal of creating this museum,” she said. “We are excited and extremely grateful for Mr. Musk’s generous gift to Tesla Science Center, and also to Matthew Inman for arranging the opportunity.”

The Tesla Science Center had confirmed the news on its Twitter feed earlier.

“Elon Musk: from the deepest wells of my geeky little heart: thank you,” Inman wrote. “This is amazing news. And it’s Nikola Tesla’s 158th birthday. Happy Nikola Tesla Day.”

In one of his comics, Inman compared Tesla favorably to his better-known contemporary – and rival – Thomas Edison. Then, in 2012, he joined forces with an effort to buy Wardenclyffe and turn it into a Tesla museum.

A fundraiser he started on Indiegogo, cheekily named “Let’s Build a G**damn Tesla Museum,” raised a whopping $1.3 million, more than enough to buy the property. Since then, the foundation has been raising the roughly $8 million needed to restore the site and build the museum itself.

That’s why this year, in a comic reviewing his new Tesla Model S, Inman devoted part of it to calling on Musk to help out. Though Tesla Motors is named in honor of the scientist, whose work included early electrical experiments, the Tesla family is in no way involved with the company.

Within hours of the comic being posted, Musk, who had donated $2,500 to the initial effort, sent Inman a simple message on Twitter: “I would be happy to help.”

A representative for Tesla Motors also confirmed the gift to CNN on Thursday.

Nikola Tesla's former laboratory in Shoreham, New York, had been owned by a photo processor.

Born in 1856, Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American engineer and inventor who helped pioneer the use of electricity, among other achievements. At Wardenclyffe, Tesla worked on developing wireless communications, more than 100 years before anyone would hold a smartphone, and methods for delivering clean, free energy.

But his work lost much of its financial backing after inventor Guglielmo Marconi sent radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean, and the lab site was lost in 1915.

Tesla died at age 86 in 1943, in debt and living in a New York hotel. His legacy and work languished in relative obscurity for decades thereafter.

But in recent years, people in the science community have begun championing him as the true innovator of his age, saying that if his work had been properly funded, it may have led to dramatic changes in the way utilities like phone and electric service are delivered today.