The Oatmeal Pleads Elon Musk to Finance Tesla Museum; Musk Said Yes!

Inman pleads Musk to help finance the Tesla museum. Image credit: theoatmeal.com
Inman pleads Musk to help finance the Tesla museum. Image credit: theoatmeal.com

Don’t you just love it when your fandoms mash up to give you super happy news? Yesterday I squeed cheerfully as three of my favorite people showed up together on my feeds: Matthew Inman, Elon Musk, and Tesla. So what did they have in common?

It was almost two years ago that Matthew Inman, cartoonist of webcomic The Oatmeal, helped the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe non-profit organization raise money to purchase Nikola Tesla‘s old lab, the Wardenclyffe, with the goal of eventually turning it into a Tesla museum. Inman’s devout followers, including yours truly, responded with staggering generosity totaling almost $1.4 million. The money raised was enough to purchase the property itself, but an additional $8 million is still needed to clean up the abandoned property and turn it into a state-of-the-art museum.

Fast forward to this week. Inman posted two new posts on his site. The first was professing his love for his Model S, which he aptly renamed the “Intergalatic SpaceBoat of Light and Wonder.” In the second post, Inman and William Terbo, the last surviving relative of Tesla, made a public plea to Elon Musk to finance the Tesla museum. Perhaps you’ve heard of Elon Musk? He is the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, real life Tony Stark, and ultimate geek dad of twin and triplet sets (and that’s why the Model S was designed to seat 7 passengers).

As much as I love Inman, I think the public plea was a bit of a coercive move on his part. He explicitly displayed Musk’s financial situation to highlight how easily he should be able to donate a measly $8 million. Belittling the value of the gift you are requesting isn’t exactly taking the moral high ground. Moreover, considering Inman’s huge following, it would have been hard for Musk to ignore or refuse the plea while still saving face.

Then again, does anyone have Musk’s private email address or phone number handy for personal requests? Maybe there was no choice for Inman than to make this a public thing. In any case, I waited with foolish fangirl excitement to see how Musk was going to handle this one. On Tuesday morning I had my answer, albeit one limited to 140 characters. Musk replied to Inman on Twitter that he would be “happy to help.”

Musk and Inman on Twitter. Screenshot by Ariane Coffin.
Musk and Inman on Twitter. Screenshot by Ariane Coffin.

What exactly does “help” mean remains to be determined. Nevertheless, Tesla fans can rejoice that there’s hope for the future of the Tesla museum. While we’re waiting for this story to unfold, you can kill time by reading my original interview with Inman from when he launched the Indiegogo campaign for the purchase of the Wardenclyffe. In retrospect, he had told me right from the start that his plan was to badger rich philanthropists until someone forked up the money to build the Tesla museum. I guess he really meant it!

Interview with Matthew Inman from August 16th, 2012

Tesla. Photo: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives/ Flickr.

GeekMom: How did you come to get involved with this project?

Inman: I got involved in this project after some of my readers began letting me know that a non-profit was trying to buy Wardenclyffe but having trouble. I figured I’d had success with my previous fundraiser (BearLove Good. Cancer Bad), and I’ve got a huge following of readers who love Tesla, so I was well-situated to give this campaign a swift kick in the butt.

GM: What is your role in this project?

Inman: My role is basically just promoting the fundraiser and educating people about why Tesla was awesome. I crafted a blog post that boils down what we need and why we need it, and then I encouraged people to go donate. I’m like the Tesla evangelist, sorta. Teslavangelist?

GM: Why do you care?

Inman: Tesla is a hero of mine, and very rarely does an opportunity present itself where you can make a difference to your hero’s legacy nearly a century after his time. It’d be like starting a crowdfunding campaign to keep Abraham Lincoln’s original home from getting bulldozed and turned into a Krispy Kreme. I’d be all over Operation Make-Lincoln-Not-Doughnuts.

GM: The campaign’s goal, $850K, is only enough to buy the property. Jane estimated it would probably take another $10M or more to restore the property and create the museum. Do you think this is possible?

Inman: We’re on our way to getting enough money to buy the property, but getting the remaining funds is going to be a bit tougher.  I received an email from Elon Musk who pledged to donate to help save the property, but I don’t know how much yet.  I’m hoping he or someone else like GE or Larry Page might step in and help us raise a ton more to build the actual museum.

GM: Do you have any plans on how to make that happen?

Inman: I’ll just keep badgering the hell out of these people on the internet and hope they notice. I’ve been bugging Larry Page on Google+ and tweeting at GE and some other folks. Hopefully this whole thing raises enough publicity that someone will step in and help. It’d be great PR for them.

GM: What would be your dream exhibit for the Tesla museum?

Inman: If we could find an engineer who could create an exhibit which produces ball lightning. It’s incredibly difficult to produce in a laboratory but I’ve always wanted to see it.

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Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found writing about STEM travel at Geekling's Guide to the Galaxy.