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The many faces of Hugo Gernsback 2/7

From inventor to editor

When you hear the word science fiction, the first thing that comes to your mind is lasers, spaceships, hovering cars, basically everything that you can imagine what could be invented in the future. But have you spent a second thought on the origins of science fiction and who its “father” may be?

Hugo Gernsback, born in Luxembourg in 1884, expressed his passion for electricity through his various inventions and theories, later on leading him on to a slightly different path.

Gernsback’s aspiration to be an inventor who could simplify and modernise everyday life was rooted in childhood experience. His interest in electricity was kindled by a present he received from one of his father’s employees, containing a buzzer, a cable and a Leclanché battery: Hugo started experimenting with electricity. Paul O'Neil, who interviewed Gernsback for 'Life' magazine, summed up Gernsback's memories as follows: “When the bell began ringing amid a shower of wonderful green sparks [Hugo] instantly decided that he stood on the threshold of a career worthy of his mettle.” At the age of 19, Hugo Gernsback had already completed plans for his first invention, a powerful dry cell battery. Fearing that his invention would be unsuccessful in Europe, he booked a one-way ticket to New York on the S.S. Pennsylvania. Once settled in the US, Gernsback registered his first patent. But this first invention never made it into production. As it was too expensive to produce, manufacturers were not interested. This did not stop Gernsback from working on further inventions. In 25 years Gernsback filed for 40 patents in the United States. Even though ‘The Electronic Importing’, a company founded by Gernsback, was not financially successful, technicians and scientists, both amateurs and professionals were inspired by his ideas. Apart from pursuing his own research, Gernsback was also interested in radio and television. His station WRNY started to air on 12th June 1925 and played an important role in advocating television.

Illustration sources:
Centre national de littérature, Hugo Gernsback: An Amazing Story, 2010

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