Hugo Gernsback was born as Hugo Gernsbacher on August 16, 1884, in the city of Luxembourg, Luxembourg. His father was a wine wholesaler. At a young age, Gernsback was fascinated by the recent invention of the telephone and the scientific potential offered by electricity. On January 31, 1904, a 19-year-old Hugo embarked on the SS Pennsylvania at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France and alighted in New York on February 14, 1904. The passenger manifest records him as 19 years and six months of age, occupation electrician, of German parentage and of Luxembourg residence. His final destination was New York, he had paid the passage by himself, had more than $50 in his possession and this was his first visit to the USA. As his final destination, he gave the address of his cousin, D. Auerbach, 334 West 29th Street, New York City. His Condition of Health, Mental and Physical was recorded as good.
In New York, Gernsback founded the Electric Importing Company, selling radio building equipment by mail. In 1905, he launched a device he called Telimco Wireless, America’s first home radio set ($7.50 at Macy’s). His Electric Importing Company catalog evolved into Modern Electrics, a magazine that he published. In 1913, he began publishing Electrical Experimenter. That publication evolved to Science and Invention in 1919. In 1920, Gernsback began publishing Radio News, followed by Practical Electrics, Radio Review and Wonder Stories.
In 1909, he founded the Wireless Association of America, claiming 10,000 members one year later. In 1926, Gernsback started Amazing Stories, a science-fiction (a term Gernsback coined) magazine that undoubtedly inspired many young Americans to aim for the moon. He predicted landing on the moon by the early 1970s; it happened in 1969.
In 1927, he launched Your Body, a biological-sexological magazine. His imagination knew no boundaries and he bombarded such scientific luminaries as Guglielmo Marconi (Nobel Prize in Physics 1909), Robert Goddard (the father of rocketry), Reginald Fessenden (the father of Radio Broadcasting), Thomas Alva Edison, and his idol, Nikola Tesla, with his ideas and out-of-this-world predictions. His visions included birth control, cell phones, computer dating, fax machines (telautographs), flat screen TV, hearing aid (osophone), liquid fertilizer, loudspeakers, microfilm, night baseball, radar guidance (actinoscope), radio-piano (today’s synthesizer), sleep-learning, steelonium (steel that doesn’t rust or corrode – stainless steel), synthetic fabric, tape recorder, undersea tunnel, videophone (telephot), translating devices (detectophone and language rectifiers), virtual reality and many more.
Hugo Gernback did not forget his Luxembourg roots. The New York Times of January 28, 1918, published a letter by Gernsback expressing his concerns about Luxembourg’s future following the foreseeable defeat of occupying German forces.
In 1925, Gernsback founded the radio station WRNY and, in 1928, he started television broadcasting in the New York area. Many of his fantastic predictions are first explored in his novel Ralph 124c41+, serialized in 1911 in Modern Electrics and in 1925 in Amazing Stories.
By the time of his death, at age eighty-three, on August 19, 1967, Hugo Gernsback held eighty scientific patents. The Hugo Award or Science Fiction Achievement Award, named for Hugo Gernsback, the Father of Science Fiction is attributed annually by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS).
© 2009 Fausto Gardini. Jacksonville, Florida
A version of this article was written for the Luxembourg American Cultural Society, Inc. in 2007 for the Luxembourg American Cultural Center (LACC) of Belgium, Wisconsin.