Brow Beat

Is The Oatmeal the Internet’s Greatest Fundraiser?

The Oatmeal Creator Matthew Inman is really good at raising loads of money.

Randy Stewart (Wikimedia Commons)

Matthew Inman, the creator of the popular cartoon-filled website The Oatmeal, loves Nikola Tesla. In typical Inman style, a post on the site earlier this year explained in a series of cartoons, images, and text why the scientist who died in 1943 “was the greatest geek who ever lived”—even greater than Thomas Edison.

The claim wasn’t without controversy, despite its publication on a website that also features a cartoon titled “Pelvic Thrusting Cats.” A writer at Forbes took issue with Inman’s assertion that Tesla helped make alternating current practical, and with his claim that “the only thing that Thomas Edison pioneered was douchebaggery.” This led Inman to craft a detailed take-down of the Forbes article. (Speaking of which, Brow Beat takes no position on what Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison may or may not have invented.) 

A few months later and Inman is back, once again promoting Tesla’s legacy on The Oatmeal. Yesterday, Inman launched a campaign to “Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.” The land that houses Tesla’s laboratory in Shoreham, N.Y., Inman explained, is up for sale, and a nonprofit is trying to buy the $1.6 million property and turn it into a Nikola Tesla Museum. The New York state government apparently awarded the nonprofit a grant that matches any money raised for the purchase, setting the mark at $800,000. To meet this funding goal—and surpass it, if possible, since they may have to outbid someone—Inman put out a call for contributions.

Within three hours and twenty minutes of the post appearing on The Oatmeal Inman tweeted that he had received $100,000 for the museum. As of this writing, more than $450,000 has been raised for the project. (About $50,000 was raised in the time it took me to get lunch.) A $25 donation gets you a glossy photo of Tesla; a $1000 donation gets you a Tesla-themed t-shirt, tote bag, and coffee mug—plus a poster signed by Tesla’s closest relative (William H. Terbo, Tesla’s grandnephew), and a bumper sticker that declares “Tesla > Edison.” So far 14 people have donated $1000. (Two have donated $2500 or more.)

This isn’t the first time Inman has used The Oatmeal to raise a Scrooge-McDuck-sized pile of money in a matter of hours. When Inman accused the website of stealing his and others’ cartoons, FunnyJunk’s lawyer demanded $20,000 for, among other ridiculous reasons, “publishing false statements about FunnyJunk.” In response, Inman said he’d try to raise $20,000 in donations, take a photo of the money, and mail it to the lawyer with a cartoon of the litigator’s mother seducing a Kodiak bear. The money would then be donated to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. He raised $20,000 in 64 minutes—and more than $200,000 by the end of the campaign. FunnyJunk filed a lawsuit against Inman that was eventually dropped.