He already has a famous car company named after him. And soon, one of America's great underdog inventors will get an additional boost to his legacy when supporters open the Tesla Science Center at the lab in Shoreham, New York, where he built a giant tower in the hopes of wirelessly transmitting power around the globe, for free.
"This was really the place he was expecting to create his crowning glory," said Jane Alcorn, president of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe.
The eccentric Nikola Tesla, who held hundreds of patents by the time he died nearly penniless in the New Yorker hotel in 1943, invented alternating current, neon lighting and key elements of radio, X-rays and wireless technology. Tesla adherents tend to cast John Pierpont Morgan, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse as the villains who made money from Tesla's work and at times sabotaged his success.
Conspiracy theorists revere him for his talk of aliens and UFOs, and the FBI was concerned about his "death ray." Pop culturists may know him best for the Tesla coil or David Bowie's portrayal of him in "The Prestige."
"He was a genius who was trying to move the world forward, and he was crushed by greed and competition," said Joseph Sikorski, the director of a new documentary, "Tower to the People," which documents the decades-long efforts to turn the lab at Shoreham, New York, into a museum. "We hope to vindicate his struggle."
To be sure, no one knows if Tesla's grand idea could have worked even if he had the financial support he sought. "To this day, Wardenclyffe remains a scientific mystery," Jill Jonnes writes in the book "Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World."
The recent success with the museum, located in the Long Island suburbs outside of New York City, came after a $1.4 million Indiegogo campaign launched by Matthew Inman of "The Oatmeal" website. That was followed up with a $1 million pledge from Elon Musk ofTesla Motors.
"There had been an enormous amount of practical work and gigantic financial investment required to make Tesla's AC motors work in the real world, necessary development work that he often airily overlooked," wrote Jonnes in her book.
"Not only could Tesla not afford to move forward on his almost finished tower, he could not even afford the lawyers he desperately needed to defend his many patents, depriving him of all sorts of royalties. A loner by nature, unattached to the power and prestige of a great university or a major corporation, Tesla was at a disadvantage," she added.