Hugo Gernsback (1886-1967), the “Father of Science Fiction,” was an editor, publisher, author, scientist, and inventor, best known for his books Ralph 124C 41+ (1911) and Ultimate World (1958), and the magazines Modern Science (1908) and Amazing Stories (1927), the first science fiction pulp magazine. Through these publications, he disseminated his thoughts on new scientific ideas and innovations. In total, Gernsback edited and published over 50 publications and founded the radio station WRNY in 1925. A self-proclaimed science prophet, he also predicted scientific developments—including radar and television. Among his more than thirty patents are a a combined electric hair brush and comb (US Patent 1,016,138), 1912; an ear cushion (US Patent 1,514,152), 1927; and a hydraulic fishery (US Patent 2,718,083), 1955. These and many more of Gernsback’s inventions would feel right home on the pages of his farcical publication Popular Neckanics Gagazine (1947), dedicated to “love and solving its great mystery.”
In Popular Neckanics Gagazine, he wrote, “it was a sad state of affairs that the great mechanical and electronic engineering minds have been so remiss in tracing down love and solving its riddle.” Chastising scientists, he said, “instead they chase of all things, the atom and dissect and split that, when Love radiation is a far greater devastator than a million Atom bombs.” Gernsback lamented that he had become disgusted with science, even though he, too, was a scientist.
On the lighter side, however, Popular Neckanics Gagazine, which was “requestered in the U.N. Potent Office and Canards” and cited Houg Sengbrack as the “exitor and rublisher,” highlighted how much Gernsback enjoyed a good play on words. The issue is filled with inventions and gadgets from robot-steered cars to squirrel sharpeners and is written “so you can’t understand it.” The Plaslastic Expanso Bag, TinCan-Can, Lamplifier, and Stovepipe Hair Dryer illustrate the ridiculous and yet practical. Who doesn’t need a bag that can carry groceries and a child? And reusing tin cans is a “green” approach. Gernsback was thinking about recycling long before it became popular. And the Lamplifier meets so many needs it just amplifies functional.
Other “tongue in cheek” efforts included Jolliers, the Notional Weakly (1948) dedicated to good old-fashioned merriness, and Radiocracy (1943), featuring a “topsy-turvy” post-war radio-electronics world," both of which he distributed around Christmas and New Year.
The Hugo Gernsback Papers, 1908-1965 are located at Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center and University Archives, but several Gernsback gems are buried deep within the George H. Clark Collection. Clark (1881–1959), a railroad telegraph operator and electrical engineer, specialized in radio work. He was also a great collector of all things radio. Not surprisingly, Clark’s collection contains cartoons, poetry, jokes, and humorous stories about the radio, including three of Gernsback’s parody magazines.
- Bachrach, Fabian. "Hugo Gernsback Is Dead at 83; Author, Publisher and Inventor." New York Times, August 20, 1967.
- George H. Clark Radioana Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
- Novak, Matt. 'Predictions From The Father of Science Fiction." October 4, 2012. Accessed July 31, 2018. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/predictions-from-the-father-of-science-fiction-61256664/.