The price J. P. Morgan couldn’t afford

Until yesterday, I’d never heard of the person called J.P. Morgan, but then two references came along at once. Of course, I’d heard the names of financial companies such as JPMorgan Asset Management. But who was it named after?

Yesterday I was watching an old ’70s episode of Columbo, as I’m currently working my way through all the series about the scruffy detective. During the episode Any Old Port in a Storm, when they are eating in an expensive restaurant, one of the characters claims to quote J.P. Morgan when he tells Columbo that if he has to ask the price he can’t afford it. I’d never known where that commonly-used quote comes from. (Later research showed that there’s some doubt Morgan ever phrased it exactly like that.)

Later on in the same evening, I was reading an article about wireless power transmission in the Physics World magazine. This mentioned how Nikola Tesla made an early attempt at wireless power transmission at the turn of the 20th century. Tesla’s scheme involved building the Wardenclyffe Tower on Long Island, New York, which would transmit electricity all around the world. The project was financed by none other than J.P. Morgan. Unfortunately, Morgan eventually pulled the plug on the project, so to speak, after he realised that it would be impossible to bill people who received the electricity in this way. Giving away electricity for free was a price even J.P. Morgan couldn’t afford.

Wardenclyffe Tower was never completed and was eventually sold as scrap metal, but the brick building that was to form its base still survives today.

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