The century-long quest for worldwide wireless power

Two hands hold a florescent light and a cellphone next to a Tesla coil

In 1902, famed inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla set up shop on Long Island to begin work on his grandest experiment yet. He imagined the construction of a worldwide wireless power delivery system: a network of towers that could light up cities, send communications, and even power aircraft in the sky, all without wires. On the grounds of his lab, he built the first prototype transmission device, a massive structure that came to be known as the Wardenclyffe Tower.

Today, of course, we live in a profoundly wired world. Over-the-air communication is ubiquitous. But with a handful of exceptions like cellphones and toothbrushes, we still send and receive electricity through wires.

So what went happened to Tesla’s big ambition? We traveled to…

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