The future designs itself

“Amazing stories today, cold facts tomorrow”: The birth of futuristic design

From the start of the Industrial Revolution, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the scientific adventures of Jules Verne, or the philosophical novels of H.G. Wells place science, for better or for worse, at the heart of a new style of fiction: the scientific marvel.
We dedicate this second room to a later figure in futuristic projection: Hugo Gernsback. He is often recognized as the father of science fiction as a literary genre; in any case, he certainly invented its terminology.

Science fiction, as he understood it, served three purposes: a narrative to draw readers in, scientific information for their education, and a description of new uses and applications to inspire inventors to design new technological systems.
From then on, Hugo Gernsback, using all the media at his disposal, created an abundant reservoir of technological innovations and new, connected applications, all of them narrated and widely publicized through popular publications. In this way, he leveraged the enchanting power of the technosciences.

The life of Hugo Gernsback

America and Technology: Two Children’s Dreams

The young Hugo Gernsbacher (he would later Americanize his name) came from a prosperous family of German wine merchants. This young boy developed a passion for electricity from an early age, and transformed the family home, and even the neighborhood (where he set up several electric doorbells in the neighboring convent), into an electrical workshop.

Another passionate interest marked his youth: the United States. He devoured cowboy novels and Mark Twain’s stories. On January 31st, 1904, he boarded the S.S. Pennsylvania at Boulogne-sur-mer, headed for New York.

Gernsback, the inventor

It was as an inventor that he wanted to live the American Dream. This era was infused with the triumphs of technological innovation, enabled, in particular, by the development of electricity. He rapidly connected with Nikola Tesla, whom he would always admire. Upon his arrival, Gernsback registered a first trademark for an electrical battery, and attempted to produce it, though this would soon come to a halt. Over 25 years, he would register nearly 80 other trademarks, 40 of which are listed at the United States Patent and Trademarks Office.

Gernsback, the entrepreneur

Some of these trademarks were registered on behalf of the company he founded upon his arrival in New York in 1904, the Electro Importing Company (E.I.Co). His firm distributed electrical components imported from Europe, as well as complete technological objects such as the Telimco Wireless Outfit, an inexpensive radio-telegraphy system. The wireless transmission of sound and images would remain Hugo’s true passions throughout his entire life.

Pulp Magazines

The end of the 19th century saw the appearance of the first pulp magazines, inexpensive publications made using low-quality materials. They would become extremely popular during the first half of the 20th century.

Hugo used this tool to publicize E.I.Co catalogues, enhanced with theoretical articles and instructions for assembly.

Gernsback publisher

In 1908, Hugo Gernsback launched into popular-science publishing; his first monthly magazine was Modern Electrics.

In 1911, according to legend, he found himself staring at blank pages, and thus would emerge the first episode of the serial Ralph 124C 41, A Romance of the Year 2660, a technology-based fictional tale.

Though the literary quality of this serial, which some consider a catalogue of gadgets, is widely disputed by literary critics, it nevertheless opened the way toward scientific fiction.

Now persuaded by the strength of conviction in his stories, his editorial approach opened up to fiction. The August 1923 Special Issue of Science and Invention entitled “Scientific Fiction Special” is considered to be Gernsback’s first attempt to publish a magazine entirely devoted to science fiction.

The inventor of science fiction

From then on, many tales would be included in his publications Science and Invention and Radio News. Though many of these stories were commissioned by the publisher, these publications also included reprints of the short stories of H.G. Wells or a serialized adaptation of Metal Emperor by Abraham Merrit.


First novel of a wonderful scientist written by Hugo Gernsback


Scientific fiction




In 1926, the first pulp magazine from Hugo Gernsback entirely devoted to Science Fiction saw the light of day: Amazing Stories. Its first issue republished tales from Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.G. Wells, among others. This magazine rapidly became quite successful, with 100,000 copies sold, and content was soon needed.

And so, in 1926, the publisher launched a reader contest: Write a short story based on an illustration by Frank R. Paul. Seven of these stories were subsequently published.

Often a delinquent payer, Gernsback had many famous authors refuse to work with him. The magazine went bankrupt when the market crashed in 1929. He then created the serial magazine Wonder Stories, which was not successful, thus prompting him to part with it in 1936.


Though Hugo gave up publishing pulp magazines, he never stopped publicizing his predictions. Once a year, as part of his year-end greetings, he would share his prophetic visions of technological progress in various industries: conveniences, education, transportation, communications, health, and sexology, a field that was close to his heart for many years.

These publications, often quite humorous, initially took the form of parodies of existing magazines, notably Quick and Time Magazine. Eventually, they were entitled Forecast in the 1950s and would be sent out each year, until his death, for free, to a limited list of contacts.

All its content was entirely written by Hugo himself, and was often illustrated by his faithful illustrator Frank R. Paul.

A public figure

Hugo Gernsback, well beyond the world of publishing, used all means at his disposal to convince as many people as possible of the benefits of technology. He would lead radio programs, create influence clubs for a number of subjects (radio, television, science fiction, etc.), and would finally suc- ceed in making his voice heard. Toward the end of his career, Life magazine devoted a number of lovely pages to him, edited by Paul O’Neill.

Hugo Gernsback et Forrest J. Ackerman, dit Mr Science Fiction, écrivain, produc- teur de cinéma, éditeur et scénariste américain de science-fiction et horreur

The Hugo Prize

The first Science Fiction convention took place in New York in 1939, alongside the World’s Fair. Initially sparsely attended, these conventions, after the war, drew bigger crowds each year. In 1952, Hugo Gernsback was the guest of honor. It was at this convention that the idea of an annual prize emerged, to recognize the best in Science-Fiction writing: The annual Science Fiction Awards. The nickname of “Hugo Awards”, adopted from the start of this prize, was made official through a vote in 1993.

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