After completing his work in Colorado Springs Tesla departed on 7 January 1900; his laboratory being dismantled to cover some of his debts. With his new discoveries now in hand events moved rapidly forwards, with Tesla seeking out financial backing to construct the first power plant/wireless transmission station of the ‘world system’ he envisioned. Up stepped the great financier J. P. Morgan. After several discussions Tesla was able to convince Morgan of the superiority of his system over those of his competitors, and in 1901 a contract was signed between both men granting Tesla $150,000 to build the station on Long Island, New York (a sum equivalent to $4,252,200 in present day US dollars). This gave Morgan precisely 51% of the company that was formed around the project.
The actual construction of Tesla’s new power plant began in 1901 in
September, at a place called Wardenclyffe. It was to be the first of a
network of 30 plants sited worldwide, all capable of broadcasting power
and transmitting messages. The Wardenclyffe site was to be the central
hub of the entire system; the actual facility itself consisting of two
parts. The first being the main building, as designed by the architect
Stanford White. And the second, a special tower built to Tesla’s own
specifications. The former component was some 94 feet square,
constructed to house the boiler, a generator, machinery, and also
various laboratory equipment to run the site. All of this was linked to
the tower – the critical element of the entire facility – which itself
was assembled close by.
Now the tower was certainly quite an elaborate structure. It consisted of a wooden frame some 187 feet high supporting a large cupola, or dome-like ball 68 feet in diameter, which itself was composed of some 55 tonnes of steel. This though was merely the surface component of the tower. Indeed, there was a very special subsurface element to the design, as revealed something critical about the whole project. Namely, a fundamental disagreement that existed between Tesla and his contemporaries, regarding the very issue of transmitting wireless signals.
The whole concept of wireless radio transmission as developed at the close of the 19th century rested primarily upon the work of one Heinrich Hertz, who did achieve a certain success in transmitting a series of radio waves over a small distance. But just what exactly was it that allowed for this effect, and just how was it to be interpreted? The conventional view as generally accepted at the time was that it was due to Hertz using his equipment to disturb a solid material aether of some sort, in order to convey his signal. Tesla totally disagreed with this assessment however. In his own words:
It is unfortunate that the work of Heinrich Hertz produced results which were so greatly misinterpreted, such that he retarded the advance of wireless technology by many decades. This is something that Tesla himself explained and lamented on many occasions, and in many publications over the course of his life. For consider the exact nature of wireless signals, wherein a transmitting circuit is connected to the Earth, and to an antenna. Once more, Tesla explains:
The essential point to note is that what is emitted from the antenna into the atmosphere and propagates through the air at the speed of light are mere radiations. Being of the electromagnetic spectrum such radiations rapidly lose their power and diminish over short distances. This is the point that Tesla makes in noting that is it extremely difficult for such signals to be recovered and picked up by a receiver some distance away from the transmitter.
Realising the near worthlessness of the Hertz waves, Tesla's work led him to consider the wireless transmission of signals and power through the Earth itself. The focus was therefore upon the ground current, and to this end the Wardenclyffe plant had a very elaborate subsurface component. One that was absolutely critical to form an energetic link between it and the Earth, in order to facilitate the transmission of power. Tesla described this feature of his plant as follows:
It can be seen then that Tesla had devised a giant terminal set deep under his tower to connect it with the Earth. The main focus of the endeavour was thus on the transmission of signals and power through the ground, with a complex subsurface element to the tower being necessary to achieve this.
Overall, the Wardenclyffe project was a massive undertaking. A grand plan to be sure. One that was both expensive and elaborate, with Tesla himself committing everything he personally had to the project. His aim was nothing less than to outperform all of his rivals in every way and bring global communications and power to the people the world over. Sadly however, it never reached full completion. An incredible series of events conspired to see the whole venture implode in spectacular fashion. Tesla’s grand world system was never realised in his lifetime.