History of Science and Invention Magazine
From Newsstand 1925
Electrical Experimenter
Published from May 1913 to August 1929 and started by Hugo Gernsback, Science and Invention encouraged scientific curiosity and amateur scientific experimentation. Much of the focus of the experimentation in the magazine was on radio construction and design, but it also included any new technological advance that was noteworthy to inventors. Readers possessing scientific curiosity were rewarded by articles detailing the principles of physics that could be observed in everyday life, speculative articles on forthcoming technologies, and even “scientifiction” stories about conflict resolutions facilitated by inventive prowess and problem solving. Today, Gernsback is considered by many to be the father of the Science Fiction genre, and by starting the Science Correspondence Club, also becomes the earliest organizer of science fiction fandom in the United States.


Science and Invention was originally called The Electrical Experimenter and published by the Experimenter Publishing Company from May 1913 to August 1929; the title changed from The Electrical Experimenter to Science and Invention in August 1920. It was published and edited by Hugo Gernsback, an electrical engineer who started publishing and editing his first magazine, Modern Electrics, only five years earlier. Modern Electrics was an overnight success. Gernsback, who had moved to New York City from Luxembourg in 1904, first became successful after starting his own business, the Electro Importing Company, which imported and sold high quality electrical components from Germany. The Experimenter Publishing Company, a subsidiary of the Electro Importing Company, and its subsequent publications under the direction of Gernsback were the result of the experience he gained while publishing a catalog listing the Electro Importing Company’s products. Gernsback also felt that there was a “general ignorance of technology amongst the American public” and set out to correct this imbalance by publishing a periodical that would disseminate technical and scientific information to the public.[1]

The first issue of Modern Electrics was published in April 1908 in a 6 x 9.5 inch format on 36 pages of quality paper stock for ten cents. It is hard to gauge whether the public’s ignorance of general scientific principles was reduced by the publication of Modern Electrics but clearly the magazine was an immediate success: “The first issue of 8,000 copies sold out, as did the second issue of 10,000. Circulation rose from 18,000 the first year, to 30,000 after two years and 52,000 by the third.”[2] Gernsback sold his share of Modern Electrics in 1913 and began publishing The Electrical Experimenter the same year.

The Electrical Experimenter began publication in May 1913 in an 11 x 8.5 inch format on quality paper stock. At sixteen pages, it boasted that it contained no advertisements, and cost five cents. The page count was a significant reduction in content compared to recent issues of Modern Electrics which ran about one hundred and twelve pages per issue with advertisements. By March 1915 the magazine had begun to accept advertising and the page count increased from sixteen to thirty-two pages and the cover price was changed to ten cents. Shortly after this increase another twelve pages were added in June 1915. By the late twenties the page count had increased to 95 pages and the cover price was 25 cents (Ashley, Lowndes 34).

Science and Invention is best remembered for its speculative articles, scientific fiction serializations, and for encouraging its readers to become amateur electrical experimenters. The distinction of “electrical” in front of the word “experimenter” is an important one. Gernsback’s dedication to electrical experimentation was a substantial one. As a professional experimenter and electrical engineer he made a living in this field. One must remember that the profession of electrical engineer did not command the widespread professional respect it does in the early twenty-first century. According to Gernsback, electrical experimenters like Edison or Tesla or Marconi, whether they became wealthy or not, were more admired for an invention or device's ability to generate income than they were respected by the established scientific community. Even as late as August 1920 this was an issue that Gernsback felt needed to be addressed. He states in the editorial to the first issue of Science and Invention that “[i]t matters little that Jules Verne or Nikola Tesla are a hundred years ahead of the times--the scientists scoff and laugh unbelievingly . . . because the real scientists are as backward as in Galileo’s times” (qtd in Ashley, Lowndes 54).

In all three of his scientific magazines Gernsback was well-known for speculative articles that predicted advancements in technologies such as wireless data transmission as well as predicting the country’s future reliance on sources of power such as solar energy. The majority of the pages in the July 1925 Science and Invention are dedicated to experimentation and advances in radio, science, home improvement, and other technologies and several of these are in the format of diagrams and schematics for everything from hub cap lights to teaching swimming on land to how to build an automatic fisherman. There are also contests to invent uses for everyday materials such as inner tubes, as well as articles dedicated to debunking the tricks of psychic mediums, crossbreeding flowers to create new colors, presenting interesting facts about Earth’s atmosphere, explaining the planet’s gravitational field, presenting movies at home with sound, scientific magic tricks, and on and on. Contests and prizes were a popular feature of Science and Invention and in the July 1925 there are prizes of more than $28,000.00 for two of Gernsback’s favorite subjects and one for submissions along with the $1000.00 in monthly contest awards. Although Mike Ashley and Robert Lowndes express some skepticism about Gernback’s practices of paying his fiction writers in a timely fashion in general, it seems that the majority of the content in July 1925 in Science and Invention came from monthly contributions.[3]

Gernsback wanted Science and Invention to be read by “scientists and inventors, most especially by the amateur scientist and inventor whom Gernsback regarded as his main market” (Ashley, Lowndes 45). The “amateur” market here logically included the youth of America, and Gernsback’s editorial directive for most of the scientific fiction that appeared in his publications is quite clear. He intended to educate and inspire his audience, to promote the use of science and invention to increase the presence of scientific technology in the American public. Capturing the imagination of young Americans would be the ideal way to promote such a goal and the scientific fiction in his magazines would have fed the established appetite for the type of fantastic adventure fiction that had been appearing in pulp magazines since the late nineteenth century. Gernsback’s fiction was written for scientists and this usually involved selecting one or more scientific principles and building a story around them, as opposed to the way fiction and adventure pulps had been putting the “fiction first, with a strong fantastic element and a smattering of science” (Ashley, Lowndes 45). This “Gernsbackian” approach to fiction has attracted the skepticism, typically presented in texts that seek to canonize or historicize the convergence of scientific principles and fiction. According to Gary Westfahl, the more recent studies of Science Fiction display a tendency to speak of Gernsback more “sympathetically than earlier studies of the genre” that tended to label Gernsback as “the man who had instructed and encouraged authors to write bad science fiction, [and] who had published and praised the bad science fiction that resulted from his efforts.”[4] Regardless of the qualitative assessments of stories Gernsback published, Westfahl has precisely argued the irrelevance of such assessments by stating that Gernsback “had an impact on all works of science fiction published since 1926” and that the affect of this impact “had influenced perceptions of the works published before 1926 now acknowledged as science fiction” (Westfahl 3).

Regarding the fiction presented in Science and Invention it is necessary to point out that although the words “science-fiction” were used in 1851 by William Wilson in his book A Little Earnest Book Upon a Great Old Subject, it is not until the 1920s that the words scientific fiction, scientifiction, and finally science fiction became formally attached to a genre of literature with particular motifs (Ashley, Lowndes 147). Also of significance is the fact that it is Hugo Gernsback that initiates the practice of this formality. The fiction and serializations that first appeared in the April 1911 issue of Modern Electrics and subsequently in The Electrical Experimenter and Science and Invention can be classified less as adventure stories than what Ashley and Lowndes call the “scientific problem story” and the “scientific mystery story” (Ashley, Lowndes 49, 59). These stories are the direct precursors to Gernsback’s first all-fiction magazine and the first magazine dedicated to the genre of science fiction: Amazing Stories. Within two years of its revolutionary appearance in April 1926, Amazing Stories put science fiction on the map forever. The competitive spirit of American magazine publishing would create a deluge of competitors and imitators by the early 1930s. Gernsback himself would be one of Amazing’s first serious competitors with his new magazine Science Wonder Stories (June 1929 - April 1936) because of bankruptcy proceedings in February 1929 that resulted in the loss of publishing rights for the magazines he had created (Ashley, Lowndes 132). The last issue of Science and Invention Gernsback edited was the April 1929 issue. Most of the staff on the Experimenter magazines was kept intact with the obvious exception of upper management and so Gernsback’s associate editors Thomas O’Connor Sloane and Joseph H. Kraus took over the editing and publication of Science and Invention. The magazine’s final issue was the August 1931 issue after which it was sold to Popular Mechanics and absorbed into that magazine.


Science and Invention was not the first of Gernsback’s publications which contained a scientific fiction story; that distinction goes to his first magazine, Modern Electrics. It was most certainly not the most technical publication or even the most scientific. Those distinctions go to Modern Electrics, Radio News, and Practical Electrics which changed its title to The Experimenter in 1924. However, it was the Gernsback science periodical that, until the publication of Amazing Stories, was the most reliant on the possibilities of the future impact of electricity: the wondrous inventions, the amazing possibilities for humankind, the far away places that the human race will discover.
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