Hugo Gernsback

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Hugo Gernsback
Hugo Gernsback by Bachrach.jpg
Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown
BornHugo Gernsbacher
(1884-08-16)16 August 1884
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
DiedAugust 19, 1967(1967-08-19) (aged 83)
Manhattan, New York, US
Pen nameBeno Ruckshagg, Erno Shuckbagg, Grace G. Hucksnob, Grego Banshuck, Greno Gashbuck, Gus N. Habergock, Kars Gugenchob
OccupationInventor, magazine publisher, editor, writer
NationalityLuxembourgish, American
Period1911–1967 (science fiction)
Genre Science fiction
Gernsback demonstrating his television goggles in 1963 for Life magazine Hugo Gernsback 1963.png
Gernsback demonstrating his television goggles in 1963 for Life magazine
Gernsback watching a television broadcast by his station WRNY on the cover of his Radio News (Nov 1928) Radio News Nov 1928 Cover.jpg
Gernsback watching a television broadcast by his station WRNY on the cover of his Radio News (Nov 1928)

Hugo Gernsback ( /ˈɡɜːrnzˌbæk/ ; 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". [1] In his honour, annual awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention are named the "Hugos". [2]

An inventor is a person who creates or discovers a new method, form, device or other useful means that becomes known as an invention. The word inventor comes from the Latin verb invenire, invent-, to find. The system of patents was established to encourage inventors by granting limited-term, limited monopoly on inventions determined to be sufficiently novel, non-obvious, and useful. Although inventing is closely associated with science and engineering, inventors are not necessarily engineers nor scientists.

A magazine is a publication, usually a periodical publication, which is printed or electronically published. Magazines are generally published on a regular schedule and contain a variety of content. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by prepaid subscriptions, or a combination of the three.

Science fiction magazine

A science fiction magazine is a publication that offers primarily science fiction, either in a hard copy periodical format or on the Internet.


Personal life

Gernsback was born in 1884 in Luxembourg City, to Berta (Dürlacher), a housewife, and Moritz Gernsbacher, a winemaker. [3] His family was Jewish. [4] Gernsback emigrated to the United States in 1904 and later became a naturalized citizen. [5] He married three times: to Rose Harvey in 1906, Dorothy Kantrowitz in 1921, and Mary Hancher in 1951. In 1925, he founded radio station WRNY, which was broadcast from the 18th floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. In 1928, WRNY aired 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.

Luxembourg City Commune in Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Luxembourg, also known as Luxembourg City, is the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and the country's most populous commune. Standing at the confluence of the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers in southern Luxembourg, the city lies at the heart of Western Europe, situated 213 km (132 mi) by road from Brussels, 372 km (231 mi) from Paris, and 209 km (130 mi) from Cologne. The city contains Luxembourg Castle, established by the Franks in the Early Middle Ages, around which a settlement developed.

WRNY (defunct)

WRNY was an American AM radio station that operated in New York City, New York from 1925 to 1934. It was started by Hugo Gernsback's Experimenter Publishing Company to promote his radio and science magazines. It was one of the first stations to have regularly scheduled experimental television broadcast starting in August 1928. Experimenter Publishing went bankrupt in early 1929 and the station was purchased by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company to promote aviation.

Television Telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images

Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome, or in color, and in two or three dimensions and sound. The term can refer to a television set, a television program, or the medium of television transmission. Television is a mass medium for advertising, entertainment and news.

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. [6]

<i>Modern Electrics</i>

Modern Electrics was a technical magazine for the amateur radio experimenter. The magazine existed between 1908 and 1914.

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. [7]

He died at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City on August 19, 1967. [8]

Science fiction

Gernsback's second novel, Baron Munchausen's Scientific Adventures, was serialized in Amazing in 1928, with the opening installment taking the February cover. Amazing stories 192802.jpg
Gernsback's second novel, Baron Münchausen's Scientific Adventures, was serialized in Amazing in 1928, with the opening installment taking the February cover.
Gernsback's short story "The Cosmatomic Flyer", under the byline "Greno Gashbuck," was cover-featured in the debut issue of Gernsback's Science-Fiction Plus in 1953 Science fiction plus 195303 v1 n1.jpg
Gernsback's short story "The Cosmatomic Flyer", under the byline "Greno Gashbuck," was cover-featured in the debut issue of Gernsback's Science-Fiction Plus in 1953

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. [7] [lower-alpha 1] 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". [9] He also played an important role in starting science fiction fandom, by organizing the Science Fiction League [10] and by publishing the addresses of people who wrote letters to his magazines. 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". [9]

<i>Amazing Stories</i> American science fiction magazine

Amazing Stories is an American science fiction magazine launched in April 1926 by Hugo Gernsback's Experimenter Publishing. It was the first magazine devoted solely to science fiction. Science fiction stories had made regular appearances in other magazines, including some published by Gernsback, but Amazing helped define and launch a new genre of pulp fiction.

Edgar Allan Poe 19th-century American author, poet, editor and literary critic

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and of American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country's earliest practitioners of the short story. He is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

Jules Verne French novelist, poet and playwright

Jules Gabriel Verne was a French novelist, poet, and playwright.

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.[ citation needed ] 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 [11] ) business practices, [12] and for paying his writers extremely low fees [13] or not paying them at all. [14] H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as "Hugo the Rat". [15]

As Barry Malzberg has said:

Gernsback's venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been 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. [16]

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." [17]


Frederik Pohl said in 1965 that Gernsback's Amazing Stories published "the kind of stories Gernsback himself used to write: a sort of animated catalogue of gadgets". [18] Gernsback's fiction includes the novel Ralph 124C 41+ ; the title is a pun on the phrase "one to foresee for many" ("one plus"). Even though Ralph 124C 41+ has been described as pioneering many ideas and themes found in later SF work, [19] it has often been neglected due to what most critics deem poor artistic quality. [20] Author Brian Aldiss called the story a "tawdry illiterate tale" and a "sorry concoction", [21] while author and editor Lester del Rey called it "simply dreadful." [22] While most other modern critics have little positive to say about the story's writing, Ralph 124C 41+ is considered by science fiction critic Gary Westfahl as "essential text for all studies of science fiction." [23]

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. [24] 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." [25]

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. [2] [26]

In 1960 Gernsback received a special Hugo Award as "The Father of Magazine Science Fiction". [27] [28]

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted him in 1996, its inaugural class of two deceased and two living persons. [29]

Science fiction author Brian W. Aldiss held a contrary view about Gernsback's contributions: "It is easy to argue that Hugo Gernsback ... was one of the worst disasters to hit the science fiction field ... Gernsback himself was utterly without any literary understanding. He created dangerous precedents which many later editors in the field followed." [30]

Influence in radio electronics and broadcasting

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. [31] [32] 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

November 1931 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics Science and Mechanics Nov 1931 cover.jpg
November 1931 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics
Gernsback's decade of publishing SF magazines came to a close with the final issue of Wonder Stories in 1936. Aside from the short-lived Science-Fiction Plus in the 1950s, he never returned to that business Wonder stories 193604.jpg
Gernsback's decade of publishing SF magazines came to a close with the final issue of Wonder Stories in 1936. Aside from the short-lived Science-Fiction Plus in the 1950s, he never returned to that business


Gernsback held 80 patents by the time of his death in New York City on August 19, 1967.



Short stories:

See also


  1. 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. [7]

Related Research Articles

T. OConor Sloane American editor

Thomas O'Conor Sloane was the editor of Amazing Stories from 1929-38 as T. O'Conor Sloane. In 1938, publisher Ziff-Davis bought the magazine and moved its production to Chicago, naming Raymond A. Palmer as Sloane's successor.

Frank R. Paul American science fiction illustrator

Frank Rudolph Paul was an American illustrator of pulp magazines in the science fiction field.

<i>Ralph 124C 41+</i> book

Ralph 124C 41+, by Hugo Gernsback, is an early science fiction novel, written as a twelve-part serial in Modern Electrics magazine, which Gernsback edited, beginning in April 1911. It was compiled into novel/book form in 1925. While it pioneered many ideas found in later science fiction, it has been critically panned for its "inept writing". The title itself is a play on words, meaning "One to foresee for one another". In the introduction to the first volume of Science-Fiction Plus, dated March 1953, Gernsback called for patent reform to give science fiction authors the right to create patents for ideas without having patent models because many of their ideas predated the technical progress needed to develop specifications for their ideas. The introduction referenced the numerous prescient technologies described throughout Ralph 124C 41+.

<i>Wonder Stories</i> American science fiction magazine

Wonder Stories is an early American science fiction magazine which was published under several titles from 1929 to 1955. It was founded by Hugo Gernsback in 1929 after he had lost control of his first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, when his media company Experimenter Publishing went bankrupt. Within a few months of the bankruptcy, Gernsback launched three new magazines: Air Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and Science Wonder Quarterly.

David H. Keller American writer

David Henry Keller was an American writer who worked for pulp magazines in the mid-twentieth century, in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. He was the first psychiatrist to write for the genre, and was most often published as David H. Keller, MD, but also known by the pseudonyms Monk Smith, Matthew Smith, Amy Worth, Henry Cecil, Cecilia Henry, and Jacobus Hubelaire.

Miles J. Breuer American physician and science fiction writer

Miles John Breuer was an American physician and science fiction writer. He was part of the first generation of writers to appear regularly in the pulp science fiction magazines, publishing his first story, "The Man with the Strange Head", in the January 1927 issue of Amazing Stories. His best known works are "The Gostak and the Doshes" (1930) and two stories written jointly with Jack Williamson, "The Girl from Mars" (1929) and The Birth of a New Republic (1931).

Experimenter Publishing American media company

Experimenter Publishing was an American media company founded by Hugo Gernsback in 1915. The first magazine was The Electrical Experimenter (1913–1931) and the most notable magazines were Radio News (1919–1985) and Amazing Stories (1926–2005). Their radio station, WRNY, began broadcasting experimental television in 1928. In early 1929 the company was forced into bankruptcy and the Gernsback brothers lost control of Experimenter Publishing. The magazines did not miss an issue and were quickly sold to another publisher. The Gernsbacks promptly started new magazines to compete with their former ones.

<i>Radio News</i>

Radio News was an American monthly technology magazine published from 1919 to 1971. The magazine was started by Hugo Gernsback as a magazine for amateur radio enthusiasts, but it evolved to cover all the technical aspects to radio and electronics. In 1929 a bankruptcy forced the sale of Gernsback's publishing company to B. A. Mackinnon. In 1938 Ziff-Davis Publishing acquired the magazines.

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<i>Electrical Experimenter</i>

The Electrical Experimenter was an American technical science magazine that was published monthly. It was established in May 1913, as the successor to Modern Electrics, a combination of a magazine and mail-order catalog that had been published by Hugo Gernsback starting in 1908. The Electrical Experimenter continued from May 1913 to July 1920 under that name, focusing on scientific articles about radio, and continued with a broader focus as Science and Invention until August 1931.

<i>Science-Fiction Plus</i> American science fiction magazine

Science-Fiction Plus was an American science fiction magazine published by Hugo Gernsback for seven issues in 1953. In 1926, Gernsback had launched Amazing Stories, the first science fiction magazine, but he had not been involved in the genre since 1936, when he sold Wonder Stories. Science-Fiction Plus was initially in slick format, meaning that it was large-size and printed on glossy paper. Gernsback had always believed in the educational power of science fiction, and he continued to advocate his views in the new magazine's editorials. The managing editor, Sam Moskowitz, had been a reader of the early pulp magazines, and published many writers who had been popular before World War II, such as Raymond Z. Gallun, Eando Binder, and Harry Bates. Combined with Gernsback's earnest editorials, the use of these early writers gave the magazine an anachronistic feel.

<i>Fantastic Story Quarterly</i> US pulp science fiction magazine

Fantastic Story Quarterlywas a pulp science fiction magazine, published from 1950 to 1955 by Best Books, a subsidiary imprint of Standard Magazines. The name was changed with the Summer 1951 issue to Fantastic Story Magazine. It was launched to reprint stories from the early years of the science fiction pulp magazines, and was initially intended to carry no new fiction, though in the end every issue contained at least one new story. It was sufficiently successful for Standard to launch Wonder Story Annual as a vehicle for more science fiction reprints, but the success did not last. In 1955 it was merged with Standard's Startling Stories. Original fiction in Fantastic Story included Gordon R. Dickson's first sale, "Trespass", and stories by Walter M. Miller and Richard Matheson.


Radio-Electronics was an American electronics magazine that was published under various titles from 1929 to 2003. Hugo Gernsback, sometimes called by Americans as The Father of Science Fiction, started it as Radio-Craft in July 1929. The title was changed to Radio-Electronics in October 1948 and again to Electronics Now in July 1992. In January 2000 it was merged with Gernsback's Popular Electronics to become Poptronics. Gernsback Publications ceased operations in December 2002 and the January 2003 issue was the last. Over the years, Radio-Electronics featured audio, radio, television and computer technology. The most notable articles were the TV Typewriter and the Mark-8 computer. These two issues are considered milestones in the home computer revolution.

<i>Scientific Detective Monthly</i> US pulp science fiction magazine

Scientific Detective Monthly was a pulp magazine which published fifteen issues beginning in January 1930. It was launched by Hugo Gernsback as part of his second venture into science fiction magazine publishing, and was intended to focus on detective and mystery stories with a scientific element. Many of the stories involved contemporary science without any imaginative elements—for example, a story in the first issue turned on the use of a bolometer to detect a black girl blushing—but there were also one or two science fiction stories in every issue.

History of US science fiction and fantasy magazines to 1950 Science fiction and fantasy magazine history

Science fiction and fantasy magazines began to be published in the United States in the 1920s. Stories with science fiction themes had been appearing for decades in pulp magazines such as Argosy, but there were no magazines that specialized in a single genre until 1915, when Street & Smith, one of the major pulp publishers, brought out Detective Story Magazine. The first magazine to focus solely on fantasy and horror was Weird Tales, which was launched in 1923, and established itself as the leading weird fiction magazine over the next two decades; writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard became regular contributors. In 1926 Weird Tales was joined by Amazing Stories, published by Hugo Gernsback; Amazing printed only science fiction, and no fantasy. Gernsback included a letter column in Amazing Stories, and this led to the creation of organized science fiction fandom, as fans contacted each other using the addresses published with the letters. Gernsback wanted the fiction he printed to be scientifically accurate, and educational, as well as entertaining, but found it difficult to obtain stories that met his goals; he printed "The Moon Pool" by Abraham Merritt in 1927, despite it being completely unscientific. Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories in 1929, but quickly started several new magazines. Wonder Stories, one of Gernsback's titles, was edited by David Lasser, who worked to improve the quality of the fiction he received. Another early competitor was Astounding Stories of Super-Science, which appeared in 1930, edited by Harry Bates, but Bates printed only the most basic adventure stories with minimal scientific content, and little of the material from his era is now remembered.

<i>Amazing Stories Quarterly</i> U.S. science fiction pulp magazine

Amazing Stories Quarterly was a U.S. science fiction pulp magazine that was published between 1928 and 1934. It was launched by Hugo Gernsback as a companion to his Amazing Stories, the first science fiction magazine, which had begun publishing in April 1926. Amazing Stories had been successful enough for Gernsback to try a single issue of an Amazing Stories Annual in 1927, which had sold well, and he decided to follow it up with a quarterly magazine. The first issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly was dated Winter 1928 and carried a reprint of the 1899 version of H.G. Wells' When the Sleeper Wakes. Gernsback's policy of running a novel in each issue was popular with his readership, though the choice of Wells' novel was less so. Over the next five issues, only one more reprint appeared: Gernsback's own novel Ralph 124C 41+, in the Winter 1929 issue. Gernsback went bankrupt in early 1929, and lost control of both Amazing Stories and Amazing Stories Quarterly; his assistant, T. O'Conor Sloane, took over as editor. The magazine began to run into financial difficulties in 1932, and the schedule became irregular; the last issue was dated Fall 1934.


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