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How a cartoonist raised $1 million (and counting) for a Tesla museum

Matthew Inman, a cartoonist who runs theoatmeal.com, posted a tribute titled "Why Nicola Tesla is the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived.'

By Frank EltmanAssociated Press / August 27, 2012

A commemorative plaque affixed to a Shoreham, N.Y. building that was once the laboratory of physicist/inventor Nicola Tesla. In little more than a week, donors from more than 100 countries have kicked in about $1 million through a social media website to pay for the restoration of the 110-year-old laboratory.

(AP Photo/Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe)

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Shoreham, New York

A jolt of support from a popular Web cartoonist has re-energized a decades-long effort to restore a decrepit, 110-year-old laboratory once used by Nikola Tesla, a visionary scientist who was a rival of Thomas Edison and imagined a world of free electricity.

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In little more than a week, tens of thousands of donors from more than 100 countries have kicked in more than $1 million through a social media fundraising website to pay for the restoration of Tesla's Wardenclyffe laboratory, located about 65 miles (105 kilometers) east of New York City. A small band of followers who have struggled to establish a science and research museum and learning center in Tesla's honor are giddy with delight about the lightning-quick response they have received.

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"Enormously, overwhelmingly, astounding," is how Jane Alcorn, president of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe and a retired school librarian, described her feelings about the project's newfound fortune. The not-for-profit formed about 17 years ago had managed to secure a state matching grant of $850,000 but had amassed only about $50,000 for the project. Its goal at times seemed insurmountable.

Then this summer Alcorn learned that Matthew Inman, a cartoonist who runs theoatmeal.com, posted a tribute to the scientist titled "Why Nicola Tesla is the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived." Supporters of the Long Island effort reached out to Inman, a 27-year-old who lives in Seattle, and he and Alcorn began speaking.

Last week, he posted a request for donations on IndieGoGo, a fundraising website, and the response was nearly instantaneous. At 6 p.m. on Aug. 15, the plea went out, and before Alcorn went to bed that night, donors had given nearly a quarter million dollars.

"I was blown away by that," Alcorn said. "I kept refreshing the page and refreshing the page and the number kept going up. I went to bed after 1 that night, but I didn't really get any sleep, to be honest."

Indiegogo put together several charts showing how more than 20,000 people from 102 countries have contributed to the campaign.

Inman, who is in Japan this week on business, told The Associated Press that he thinks "Tesla would be very pleased to see this many people kind of worshipping him as this geek hero" and backing it up with credit card donations by the thousands to restore his lab.

Tesla amassed hundreds of patents for his discoveries over his lifetime. Among his most notable accomplishments are his work in developing alternating current and other research in the creation of wireless communication and radio. He worked for Edison in the 1880s, but later became a rival. Tesla died in New York City in 1943.

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