Hugo  Gernsback

An immigrant from Luxembourg in 1904, Hugo Gernsback played a major role both in fostering the amateur radio movement and in creating the American science fiction tradition. Gernsback's Electro Importing Company imported specialized electronic equipment from Europe and helped to supply many of those who wanted to make their own radios and transmitters. He designed and marketed the Telimco Wireless, the first home radio set and the first walkie-talkie. He organized the Wireless Association of America, a major organization in the amateur radio movement. More importantly, he was an influential promoter of radio as a participatory medium through his popular science magazines and through books like Radio  for  All (1922). A technological utopian, Gernsback believed that radio would foster better communications both within the United States and globally, enabling stronger social and cultural communities and a true participatory democracy.

Gernsback reprinted the proto-science fiction and utopian writings of the 19th century, including work by H.G. Welles and Jules Verne, in his popular science magazines. Increasingly, he found his readers eager to enjoy speculative fiction, what he called "scientifiction," about technologically advanced future societies. Soon, he would spin off a series of pulp magazines, including Amazing  Stories,devoted exclusively to this new genre. Gernsback saw science fiction as a means of popular education about science, technology, and change, insisting on scientific accuracy and encouraging the critical reading of scientific details. He even considered printing the scientific information in the short stories in boldface so it would be easier for readers to recognize and correct. Amazing  Stories provided the training ground for many early science fiction writers and formed the basis for science fiction fandom. The letters to the editor column was an active forum for discussing both developments in the genre and the future of scientific exploration and experimentation. Many of the writers, such as Asimov, Heinlein, Pohl and Bradbury, who would shape American science fiction, first met as teenagers, corresponding with each other at addresses published in Gernsback's magazine, forming fan organizations, and later attending national conventions.

Although it is rarely discussed, the fact that Gernsback provided a link between the amateur radio movement and science fiction had a powerful influence on the ways in which American science fiction envisioned communications technologies. Many early science fiction writers imagined the travel of radio waves through space as leading to our initial contacts with alien cultures. Others depicted societies where global communications systems had encouraged better understanding between diverse races and cultures, ending war as we know it. They imagined vast storehouses of knowledge rendered accessible to geographically dispersed scholars and citizens.

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