The History of Wardenclyffe

Wardenclyffe Tower

Wardenclyffe Laboratory and Tower, 1917 (view of the north entrance)

In 1901, Tesla purchased 200 acres on Long Island’s north shore from James Warden. These 200 acres were part of an 1,800 acre potato farm along what is today Route 25A in Shoreham, NY. The site became known as Wardenclyffe, after the former owner. Here, Tesla established what would become his only remaining laboratory building. Previously, after emigrating to the United States in 1884, Tesla had worked on all of his major projects at various laboratory sites. These included Pittsburgh, PA; New York City, NY; Orange, NJ; Colorado Springs, CO; and finally Wardenclyffe, NY. In April, 1901, the Wardenclyffe Post Office was established in the town; in 1906 the town became the Village of Shoreham.

The purpose of the Wardenclyffe laboratory was the establishment of a wireless telegraphy plant. The prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White was contracted to design the laboratory and transmitter tower (187 feet high above ground and 120 feet deep below ground level). Stanford White became the architect for the building.

Tesla’s plan had the initial backing of the financier J. P. Morgan. The red brick laboratory building can still be seen on the north side of Route 25A between the intersection of Randall Road and the Shoreham Fire Department.

During the last week of July 1903, residents around the Shoreham site experienced what was to be the only testing of Tesla’s equipment at this facility. Several days after these tests, his dream was destroyed when creditors from Westinghouse confiscated his heavier equipment for nonpayment for services rendered. In addition, James Warden sued Tesla for nonpayment of back taxes. In 1917, the 187-foot tower was destroyed by dynamite explosion as ordered by the U.S. government. It was demolished the same year by the Smiley Steel Company.

In 1939, the Peerless Photo Company purchased the property to manufacture emulsions for photographic film and paper. Additional buildings were constructed. In 1969, it became Agfa-Gevaert, Inc., at that time a division of the Bayer Corporation. In 1987, manufacturing ended, and the facility was closed down. Since then, the entire facility has remained dormant. It is noteworthy that, in 1967, the laboratory building was slated to be the first to be considered for listing on the Town of Brookhaven registry of historic sites.

For years, the laboratory building turned to ruins and it looked like its demolition was likely. However, in August 2012, in collaboration with internet cartoonist Matt Inman (TheOatmeal.com), The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (TSC) group launched an internet fundraising campaign that ultimately raised $1.37 million and eventually, in May 2013, succeeded in purchasing the 16-acre industrial property, including Wardenclyffe and the original tower base.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic dedicates Tesla monument in Shoreham, Long Island

Photocredit: KevinWood.com

By September 2013, with the help of over a hundred volunteers, the group had secured the site and its buildings, cleaned up the grounds outside of the buildings, and built a monument for a statue of Nikola Tesla donated by the Government of the Republic of Serbia. On September 23, President Tomislav Nikolic of the Republic of Serbia and other dignitaries visited Wardenclyffe to dedicate the statue and monument.

At present, Wardenclyffe and the property it sits on is an active industrial cleanup and reconstruction site, one which poses potentially hazardous conditions. For safety reasons and to protect its historical integrity, TSC will keep the site closed for the foreseeable future, except for scheduled work and for occasional events. However, visitors can see the Tesla statue from New York 25A, behind which one can see the large octagonal foundation of Tesla’s former transmission tower and the brick laboratory building designed by Stanford White.


The original story (G. Genova, “A History of Tesla’s Laboratory“) appeared as Story 2 in Newsletter 1 #2.