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Webcomic saves 14-year-old effort to preserve inventor's lab

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The local effort to preserve electricity- and wireless-technology pioneer Nikola Tesla’s lab and turn it into a museum has been underway since at least 1998.

The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman and his fans did it in 6 days.

The noted webcomic wasn’t the originator of the movement to save the lab in his honor. But his Indiegogo campaign on behalf of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, Long Island definitely gave the non-profit the boost it needed to raise its half of the $1.7 million price tag to buy the estate—New York state is donating the other half.

The campaign raised $10,000 within the first twenty minutes, and over $500,000 in less than two days. Last night, Inman announced that a last-minute donation of $33,000 had put the campaign over its $850,000 target. And they haven’t stopped: with 39 days still remaining, contributors have now raised more than $70,000 more than the original goal.

It’s hard to say whether this success is the result of a renewed interest in Tesla, or just a reaction to emerging lovable underdog Internet lore about him. Tesla's recent appearances in popular webcomic memes as the first nerd rockstar, beleaguered by panty-throwing fans while he pursues his scientific obsession with laser pigeons, has garnered him an unexpected new fanbase.

Though Inman’s campaign was successful on the strength of The Oatmeal’s massive viral reach, other Tesla fundraising projects are quietly languishing. A rumored biopic about the rivalry between Tesla and Edison, starring Christian Bale and Nicolas Cage, may bridge the gap between lovers of Tesla, the scientist, and lovers of Tesla, the pop culture meme.

But to Tesla fans in the Village of Shoreham, Long Island, where the laboratory is located, the distinction doesn’t matter as long as the result is the preservation of Tesla’s history and legacy. The L.A. Times reports that the laboratory may be eligible for status as a historical monument.

Since the $1.7 million price tag was just to purchase the land and save it from commercial development, the battle to fund, design, and build the hypothetical Tesla museum itself is most likely just getting underway.

But at the very least, if funds are hard to come by, Inman will always be on hand to lend his support—along with Tesla’s huge new fanbase.

UPDATE: The $33,333 pledge that Inman tweeted about came from the filmmakers behind the Tesla-themed Fragments from Olympus: the Vision of Nikola Tesla.

Photo via Indiegogo