Wardenclyffe Spotlight: Wardenclyffe Tower
At last we have come to this – our final spotlight before the project is complete. So far we have talked about what makes both of our main characters worthy of inclusion into our fine project (I only hope we make said project worthy of them). We have also talked about how the mystery and magnitude of the Tunguska Event inspired the whole thing to begin with. What about the final piece? What about that most iconic of images, that place that is so important that it has been included in the very title of The Wardenclyffe Horror, itself?
Many of you know that thanks to The Oatmeal, it was recently saved from a grim fate, living out the rest of its days as a strip mall or set of loft apartments, but do you know about the rest of it’s sorted history? Do you know why Tesla built it, or why it was torn down? Would you like to?
The Wardenclyffe tower was one of the first wireless transmission towers ever built. Designed by Nikola Tesla, Wikipedia says that it was “intended for commercial trans-Atlantic wireless telephony, broadcasting, and proof-of-concept demonstrations of wireless power transmission.” This is indeed partly true, but Tesla had much bigger fish to fry: he was after wireless free energy, ‘too cheap to meter.’ History says the the tower itself was never fully operational, despite some apocryphal stories about startling light shows after JP Morgan (the man, not the bank) pulled the plug.
The tower was demolished in 1917, to prevent German U-boats from using it as a navigational aid, but for sixteen years, it was the most ambitious, and likely advanced scientific instrument on the planet. Per Wikipedia, the tower itself was:
The wood-framed tower was 186 feet (57 m) tall and the cupola 68 feet (21 m) in diameter. It had a 55-ton steel (some report it was a better conducting material, such as copper) hemispherical structure at the top (referred to as a cupola). Designed by one of Stanford White’s associates, the structure was such as to allow each piece to be taken out if needed and replaced as necessary. The transmitter itself was to have been powered by a 200 kilowatt Westinghouse alternating current industrial generator. Beneath the tower, a shaft sank 120 feet (37 m) into the ground. Sixteen iron pipes were placed one length after another 300 additional feet (94.4 m) in order for the machine, in Tesla’s words, “to have a grip on the earth so the whole of this globe can quiver.”
This device was both visually and technologically stunning. Archimedes was quoted as saying, “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the world,” while he was working on levers and mechanical advantage. It would seem that in an electrical sense, Tesla had much the same plan. Who is to say what he would or would not have done with a 200kw antenna of his own and enough tine and money to explore science at his leisure; the man left his name writ large across history, but if he had the chance to write with this pen, I dare say his signature would rival Mr. Hancock’s in an altogether more cosmic sense.