Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown
August 16, 1884
|Died||August 19, 1967
Manhattan, New York City, USA
|Occupation||Inventor, magazine publisher, editor, writer|
|Period||1911–1967 (science fiction)|
|Subject||Science and technology|
Hugo Gernsback (born Hugo Gernsbacher, August 16, 1884 – August 19, 1967) was a Luxembourgish-American inventor, writer, editor, and magazine publisher, best known for publications including the first science fiction magazine. His contributions to the genre as publisher–although not as a writer–were so significant that, along with the novelists H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called "The Father of Science Fiction". In his honour, annual awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention are named the "Hugos".
Gernsback was born in 1884 in Bonnevoie in Luxembourg, to Berta (Dürlacher), a housewife, and Moritz Gernsbacher, a winemaker. His family was Jewish. Gernsback emigrated to the United States in 1904 and later became a naturalized citizen. He married three times: to Rose Harvey in 1906, Dorothy Kantrowitz in 1921, and Mary Hancher in 1951. In 1925, Hugo founded radio station WRNY, which broadcast from the 18th floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. In 1928, WRNY gave some of the first television broadcasts. During the show, audio stopped and each artist waved or bowed onscreen. When audio resumed, they performed. Gernsback is also considered a pioneer in amateur radio.
Before helping to create science fiction, Gernsback was an entrepreneur in the electronics industry, importing radio parts from Europe to the United States and helping to popularize amateur "wireless". In April 1908 he founded Modern Electrics, the world's first magazine about both electronics and radio, called "wireless" at the time. While the cover of the magazine itself states it was a catalog, most historians note that it contained articles, features, and plotlines, qualifying it as a magazine.
Under its auspices, in January 1909, he founded the Wireless Association of America, which had 10,000 members within a year. In 1912, Gernsback said that he estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. were involved in amateur radio. In 1913, he founded a similar magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, which became Science and Invention in 1920. It was in these magazines that he began including scientific fiction stories alongside science journalism—including his own novel Ralph 124C 41+ which he ran for 12 months from April 1911 in Modern Electrics.
Gernsback provided a forum for the modern genre of science fiction in 1926 by founding the first magazine dedicated to it, Amazing Stories. The inaugural April issue comprised a one-page editorial and reissues of six stories, three less than ten years old and three by Poe, Verne, and Wells.[a] He said he became interested in the concept after reading a translation of the work of Percival Lowell as a child. His idea of a perfect science fiction story was "75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science.". He also played a key role in starting science fiction fandom, by publishing the addresses of people who wrote letters to his magazines. So, the science fiction fans began to organize, and became aware of themselves as a movement, a social force; this was probably decisive for the subsequent history of the genre. He also created the term “science fiction”, though he preferred the term "scientifiction".
In 1929, he lost ownership of his first magazines after a bankruptcy lawsuit. There is some debate about whether this process was genuine, manipulated by publisher Bernarr Macfadden, or was a Gernsback scheme to begin another company. After losing control of Amazing Stories, Gernsback founded two new science fiction magazines, Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. A year later, due to Depression-era financial troubles, the two were merged into Wonder Stories, which Gernsback continued to publish until 1936, when it was sold to Thrilling Publications and renamed Thrilling Wonder Stories. Gernsback returned in 1952–53 with Science-Fiction Plus.
Gernsback was noted for sharp (and sometimes shady) business practices, and for paying his writers extremely low fees or not paying them at all. H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as "Hugo the Rat."
As Barry Malzberg has said:
Gernsback's venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been so well documented and discussed in critical and fan literature. That the founder of genre science fiction who gave his name to the field's most prestigious award and who was the Guest of Honor at the 1952 Worldcon was pretty much a crook (and a contemptuous crook who stiffed his writers but paid himself $100K a year as President of Gernsback Publications) has been clearly established.
Jack Williamson, who had to hire an attorney associated with the American Fiction Guild to force Gernsback to pay him, summed up his importance for the genre:
At any rate, his main influence in the field was simply to start Amazing and Wonder Stories and get SF out to the public newsstands—and to name the genre he had earlier called "scientifiction."
Gernsback wrote fiction, including the novel Ralph 124C 41+ in 1911; the title is a pun on the phrase "one to foresee for many"("one plus"). Even though Ralph 124C 41+ is one of the most influential science fiction stories of all time, and filled with numerous science fiction ideas, few people still read the story. Author Brian Aldiss has called the story a "tawdry illiterate tale" and a "sorry concoction" while author and editor Lester del Rey called it "simply dreadful." While most other modern critics have little positive to say about the story's writing, Ralph 124C 41+ is still considered an "essential text for all studies of science fiction."
Gernsback's second novel, Baron Münchausen's Scientific Adventures, was serialized in Amazing Stories in 1928.
Gernsback's third (and final) novel, Ultimate World, written c.1958, was not published until 1971. Lester del Rey described it simply as "a bad book," marked more by routine social commentary than by scientific insight or extrapolation. James Blish, in a caustic review, described the novel as "incompetent, pedantic, graceless, incredible, unpopulated and boring" and concluded that its publication "accomplishes nothing but the placing of a blot on the memory of a justly honored man."
Gernsback combined his fiction and science into Everyday Science and Mechanics magazine, serving as the editor in the 1930s.
The Hugo Awards or "Hugos" are the annual achievement awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention, selected in a process that ends with vote by current Convention members. They originated and acquired the "Hugo" nickname during the 1950s and were formally defined as a convention responsibility under the name "Science Fiction Achievement Awards" early in the 1960s. The nickname soon became almost universal and its use legally protected; "Hugo Award(s)" replaced the longer name in all official uses after the 1991 cycle.
Influence in radio electronics and broadcasting
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Gernsback made significant contributions to the growth of early broadcasting, mostly through his efforts as a publisher. He originated the industry of specialized publications for radio with Modern Electrics and Electrical Experimenter. Later on, and more influentially, he published Radio News, which would have the largest readership among radio magazines in radio broadcasting’s formative years. He edited Radio News until 1929. For a short time he hired John F. Rider to be editor. Rider was a former engineer working with the US Army Signal Corps and a radio engineer for A. H. Grebe, a radio manufacturer. However Rider would soon leave Gernsback and form his own publishing company, John F. Rider Publisher, New York around 1931.
Gernsback made use of the magazine to promote his own interests, including having his radio station’s call letters on the cover starting in 1925. WRNY and Radio News were used to cross-promote each other, with programs on his station often used to discuss articles he had published, and articles in the magazine often covering program activities at WRNY. He also advocated for future directions in innovation and regulation of radio. The magazine contained many drawings and diagrams, encouraging radio listeners of the 1920s to experiment themselves to improve the technology. WRNY was often used as a laboratory to see if various radio inventions were worthwhile.
Articles that were published about television were also tested in this manner when the radio station was used to send pictures to experimental television receivers in August 1928. The technology, however, required sending sight and sound one after the other rather than sending both at the same time, as WRNY only broadcast on one channel. Such experiments were expensive, eventually contributing to Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing Company going into bankruptcy in 1929. WRNY was sold to Aviation Radio, who maintained the channel part-time to broadcast aviation weather reports and related feature programs. It left the air in 1934.
List of magazines edited or published by Gernsback
- Air Wonder Stories – July 1929 to May 1930, merged with Science Wonder Stories to form Wonder Stories
- Amazing Detective Stories
- Amazing Stories
- Aviation Mechanics
- Electrical Experimenter – 1913 to 1920; became Science and Invention
- Everyday Mechanics – from 1929; changed to Everyday Science and Mechanics as of October 1931 issue
- Everyday Science and Mechanics – see Science and Mechanics
- The Experimenter – originally Practical Electrics, the first issue under this title was November 1924; merged into Science and Invention in 1926
- Facts of Life
- French Humor – became Tidbits
- High Seas Adventures
- Know Yourself
- Life Guide
- Modern Electrics – 1908 to 1914 (sold in 1913; new owners merged it with Electrician and Mechanic)
- Motor Camper & Tourist
- New Ideas for Everybody
- Pirate Stories
- Popular Medicine
- Popular Microscopy – at least thru May–June 1935 (vol 1 #6)
- Practical Electrics – Dec. 1921 to Oct. 1924, became The Experimenter
- Radio Amateur News – July 1919 to July 1920, dropped the word "amateur" and became just Radio News
- Radio and Television
- Radio-Craft — July 1929 to June 1948, became Radio-Electronics
- Radio-Electronics — July 1948 to January 2003
- Radio Electronics Weekly Business Letter
- Radio Listeners Guide and Call Book [title varies]
- Radio News — July 1919 (as Radio Amateur News) to July 1948
- Radio Program Weekly
- Radio Review
- Science and Invention – formerly Electrical Experimenter; published August 1920 to August 1931
- Science and Mechanics – originally Everyday Mechanics; changed to Everyday Science and Mechanics in 1931. "Everyday" dropped as March 1937 issue, and published as Science and Mechanics until 1976
- Science Fiction Plus – March to Dec. 1953
- Science Wonder Stories – June 1929 to May 1930, merged with Air Wonder Stories to form Wonder Stories
- Science Wonder Quarterly – Fall 1929 to Spring 1930, renamed Wonder Stories Quarterly and continuing to Winter 1933
- Scientific Detective Monthly
- Short-Wave and Television
- Short-Wave Craft – merged into Radio-Craft
- Short-Wave Listener
- Superworld Comics
- Technocracy Review
- Television – 1928
- Television News – March 1931 to October 1932; merged into Radio Review, then into Radio News as of March 1933
- Tidbits, originally French Humor
- Woman's Digest
- Wonder Stories – June 1930 to April 1936
- Your Body
- Your Dreams
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Gernsback held 80 patents by the time of his death in New York City on August 19, 1967.
- Ralph 124C 41+ (1911)
- Baron Münchausen's Scientific Adventures (1928)
- Ultimate World (1971)
- "The Electric Duel" (1927)
- "The Killing Flash" (1929)
- The first eight monthly issues included installments of at least one Verne story and for more than two years every one featured a Wells story.
- Siegel, Mark Richard (1988). Hugo Gernsback, Father of Modern Science Fiction: With Essays on Frank Herbert and Bram Stoker. Borgo Pr. ISBN 0-89370-174-2..
- "Hugo Awards". The Locus Index to SF Awards: About the Awards. Locus Publications. Archived from the original on 2010-01-03. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
- O'Neil, Paul (July 26, 1963). "Barnum of the Space Age". Life. New York: Time. 55 (4): 62–68. ISSN 0024-3019.
- Massie, K., & Perry, S. D. (2002). Hugo Gernsback and Radio Magazines: An Influential Intersection in Broadcast History." Journal of Radio Studies, 9, pp. 267–268.
- Hugo Gernsback at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-20. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
- "Hugo Gernsback Is Dead at 83. Author, Publisher and Inventor. 'Father of Modern Science Fiction'. Predicted Radar. Beamed TV in '28. 'One to Forsee [sic] for All'". New York Times. August 20, 1967. Retrieved 2010-12-06.
Hugo Gernsback, an inventor, author, editor and publisher who has been called the father of modern science fiction, died yesterday at Roosevelt Hospital. He was 83 years old and lived at 263 West End Avenue.
- Gunn, James (2002). The Road to Science Fiction: From Wells to Heinlein. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0810844391.
- Bleiler, Everett F. (1990). Science-Fiction, The Early Years. Kent State University Press. p. 282.
- De Camp, L. Sprague (1975). Lovecraft: a Biography. Doubleday. ISBN 0385005784.
- Banks, Michael A. (1 October 2004). "Hugo Gernsback: The man who invented the future. Part 3. Merging science fiction into science fact". The Citizen Scientist. Society for Amateur Scientists. Archived from the original on 26 February 2011. Retrieved 2007-02-13.
- Ashley, Mike; Ashley, Michael; Lowndes, Robert A. W. (2004). The Gernsback Days. Wildside Press LLC. p. 241.
- De Camp, L. Sprague (1975). Lovecraft: a Biography. Doubleday. p. 298. ISBN 0385005784.
- Resnick, Mike; Malzberg, Barry (Dec 2009 – Jan 2010). "Resnick and Malzberg Dialogues XXXXVI: The Prozines (Part 1)". The SFWA Bulletin. 43 (5): 27–28.
- An Interview with Jack Williamson
- Westfahl, Gary (1999). The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction. Liverpool University Press. p. 135.
- Shippey, T. A.; Sobczak, A. J. (1996). Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature Volume 3: Lest Darkness Fall. Salem Press. p. 767.
- Westfahl, Gary (1999). The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction. Liverpool University Press. p. 92.
- Westfahl, Gary (1999). The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction. Liverpool University Press. p. 93.
- del Rey, Lester (June 1972). "Reading Room". If. p. 111.
- "Books", F&SF, January 1973, p. 47
- "Minutes of the Business Meeting 1991". World Science Fiction Society. Archived from the original on 2011-05-07. Retrieved 2013-03-24. Preliminary Session #1, Item E.2; Main Session #1, Item F.3 (August 30/31, 1991).
- "The Hugo Awards by Year". World Science Fiction Convention. 1960. Archived from the original on 2013-01-20. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
- "Gernsback, Hugo" Archived 2015-03-27 at the Wayback Machine.. The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
- "Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame" Archived 2013-05-21 at the Wayback Machine.. Mid American Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Inc. Retrieved 2013-03-23. This was the official website of the hall of fame to 2004.
- Massie, K.; Perry, S. D. (2002). "Hugo Gernsback and radio magazines: An influential intersection in broadcast history". Journal of Radio Studies (9): 264–281.
- Stashower, D. (August 1990). "A dreamer who made us fall in love with the future". Smithsonian. Vol. 21 no. 5. pp. 44–55.
- Ackerman, Forrest J (1997). Forrest J Ackerman's World of Science Fiction. Los Angeles: RR Donnelley & Sons. pp. 28, 31, 78–79, 107–111, 118–122. ISBN 1-57544-069-5.
- Ashley, Mike (2004). The Gernsback Days. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press. ISBN 0-8095-1055-3.
- Massie, K.; Perry, S. (2002). "Hugo Gernsback and radio magazines: An influential intersection in broadcast history" (PDF). Journal of Radio Studies. 9 (2): 264–281. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-04. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- Shunaman, Fred (October 1979). "50 Years of Electronics". Radio Electronics. Gernsback Publications. 50 (10): 42–69.
- Stashower, Daniel (August 1990). "A Dreamer Who Made Us Fall in Love with the Future". Smithsonian. 21 (5): 44–55.
- Westfahl, Gary (2007). Hugo Gernsback & the Century of Science Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-3079-6.
- Wythoff, Grant (2016). The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-1-5179-0085-4.
- Biography and criticism
- "Hugo Gernsback biography". Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
- "Boys of Wireless" at American Experience (PBS)—Contains information about Gernsback's role in early amateur radio
- Hugo Gernsback, Publisher – discussion of Gernsback as a magazine publisher, with links to cover images of most of his technical and other non-fiction magazines
- Bibliography and works