Aug. 16, 2012 at 4:25 PM ET
"He gave us so much and we gave him so little in return," cartoonist Matthew "The Oatmeal" Inman explains while speaking about inventor Nikola Tesla. "And the fact that he doesn't even have his own museum is a testament to that."
Frustrated by this thought, Inman did what any Internet-famous 29-year-old would do: He started an online fundraiser to purchase Tesla's old lab, Wardenclyffe, in Long Island, NY, and turn it into a Tesla museum.
And given Inman's ability to churn out viral content and his prior online fundraising success, he might just pull this one off.
Even though many people don't recognize his name, Inman is an incredibly popular cartoonist. You've probably seen plenty of his work — such as "10 Words You Need To Stop Misspelling," "What It's Like To Own An Apple Product," or "Cat vs Internet" — in your Facebook feed, on Twitter, or on your favorite blog at some point. It's almost impossible to avoid this man online.
After recently turning a lawsuit threat into an incredibly successful fundraiser which raised $211,223.04 for charity and creating an incredibly popular — and slightly not-so-safe-for-work — comic about Tesla, Inman says he feels "ideally situated to help out."
In late July, he heard that a non-profit organization — the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, formerly known as Friends of Science East, Inc — is attempting to purchase Tesla's laboratory, the foundation of the now-demolished Wardenclyffe tower, and any connected land in order to build a Nikola Tesla museum. The property itself is priced at $1.6 million, but the non-profit organization has received a matching grant from New York state in the amount of $850,000. This means that if the organization raises $850,000, it will wind up with $1.7 million — enough to purchase the property, if they can beat any competing bidders to the punch.
Things are looking pretty good right now though. In a day's time, Inman's fundraiser, dubbed "Operation: Let's Build A Goddamn Museum," has collected $448,000.
Inman's not relaxing just yet though. "If we raise the $850k, this will get us enough capital to buy the land and keep it a historic site, but it won't give us enough to build an actual museum," he says. "I'm hoping that if we secure the land a sponsor like Larry Page, GE, J.P. Morgan, Tesla Motors, or anyone else who is interested could step in and fund it the rest of the way, which would require something closer to an eight to ten million dollar investment."
In order to entice such sponsors, Inman included messages in a comic discussing the fundraiser.
"One hundred years ago you believed in Tesla and backed him financially. Honor his legacy and help him out again," he writes, addressing financial firm J.P. Morgan.
"I read that Larry Page is a huge fan of Tesla," Inman points out, in an attempt to cajole the company Page founded into opening its checkbook.
He throws in a general plea, in his typically humorous fashion: "Someone? Anyone? Sponsoring this museum would be the PR equivalent of having your CEO jump into an icy river and save a herd of drowning kittens. Don't you want to save some kittens?"
Those attempts to entice sponsors aside, Inman admits that's not the primary focus at the moment. "Right now we just want to get the property and keep it in the hands of the Wardenclyffe non-profit," he says. "I figured once that's done we've got years and years to fund the rest."
"Despite all he did for us [Tesla] suffered and died completely broke, and up until recently no one had any idea who he was," Inman says, when asked about what drives him to champion the fundraiser. "I want this museum to be a bit of an apology from mankind for being a bit crappy, greedy, and myopic while he was alive."
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