Gernsback demonstrating his television goggles in 1963 for Life magazine.
Hugo Gernsback, Luxembourg.
Hugo attended the Ecole Industrielle Luxembourg, and the Technikum Bingen, Germany.
In the first years of the 1900s, Hugo's inventive mind came up with the prototype of a new kind of battery, but by 1904 the European-born Gernsback had failed to secure a patent for his invention in Germany or France, and so decided to immigrate to the United States, where he hoped to patent and market it.
Gernsback’s hopes were dashed - his invention was powerful but impractical to manufacture. However, he was not without options in his newly adopted homeland: he took a research position with New York manufacturer William Roche. This job lasted less than a day; Roche suddenly took it into his head to suspect Gemsback of industrial espionage and fired him on the spot. Gernsback then became a partner in the Gee-Cee Dry Battery Company, an unsatisfactory situation that he left when he discovered that his partner was siphoning off the company’s profits. He then went into business on his own, producing automobile batteries, and did well until hard economic times wiped out his wholesale distributor in 1907.
Gernsback turned his considerable skills and interest to other technical fields, ultimately entering into a partnership that specialized in importing specialized scientific equipment from Europe. This venture led Gernsback to explore the then still-young field of radio communications, and he invented the walkie-talkie in about 1909.
His novel Ralph 124C41+, set in the year 2600, was introduced to his readership in serialized form in the pages of Modern Electrics from April, 1911, to March, 1912. (It was brought out in book form in 1925). Heartened by the popular success of Ralph 124C41+, Gernsback began a new serialized tale, based on the Rudolf Erich Raspe character, Baron Munchausen, who first appeared in print in 1785. Like the first novel, these tales were printed in Gemsback’s magazine, now retitled the Electrical Experimenter, and they ran from May, 1915, to February, 1917. Soon, Gemsbeck was accepting stories from other authors as well.
By 1923, his magazine - once again retitled, this time as Science and Invention - was publishing some of the most innovative fiction of the day.
In April of 1926, Gernsback entered the pulp magazine arena himself, when he produced the first issue of Amazing Stories.
In 1929, however, Gernsback’s empire was due for a fall. With Your Body, he entered into head-to-head competition with another highly successful publisher, Bernarr MacFadden, prompting the latter to try to buy him out. Roberts reports what happened next: “Suddenly, on 20 February, 1929, apparently at McFadden’s instigation, Gernsback was sued for payment by three creditors.” Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing Company was forced into bankruptcy under then-extant legal provisions in the state of New York. Gernsback was not down for long: in mid-1929 he was back in business at the helm of the newly founded Stellar Publishing Company, which issued Everyday Mechanics, Science Wonder Stories, and Air Wonder Stories before the summer was out. By December of that same year, Scientific Detective Monthly (later retitled Amazing Detective Tales) hit the magazine stands. He soon returned to the field of popular health publishing as well, bringing out the monthly Sexology in 1933.
Little wonder, then that he was invited to the World Science Fiction Convention in 1952 as guest of honor, or that, the following year, the Convention’s annual achievement awards became known as “Hugos.”
He died in 1967 at the age of eighty-three.
Hugo advocated for future directions in innovation and regulation of radio. He published in his magazine many drawings and diagrams to encourage radio listeners to experiment themselves to improve the technology.
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."
Garyn G. Roberts wrote about Gernsback in Dictionary of Literary Biography, he was “never satisfied with the limits of existing scientific knowledge.”
Quotes from others about the person
As Bill Blackbeard concludes in Dictionary of Literary Biography, “Hugo Gernsback is secure in his position of honor in the field of science fiction as a man who saw how to package identifiably his favorite form of reading matter and focus the attention of its many followers on a single outlet - with the results we all know today.”
Hugo married three times: to Rose Harvey in 1906, Dorothy Kantrowitz in 1921, and Mary Hancher in 1951. His children: two daughters, one son, from first two marriages.