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The Father of Science Fiction Made Virtual Reality Goggles Before It Was Cool

Hugo Gernsback invented the ‘television glasses’, but only few – not so many to be considered world domination – paid attention.

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I remember my parents telling me when I was a child not to go too near the television as doing so could damage my eyes because of the radiation. It was a golden rule to preserve my family’s normal sight. Only to find more than a decade later that there is a technology especially designed to have radiation-emitting devices the nearest they could be to the eyes: virtual reality headsets.

If you have been living under a rock, virtual reality headsets are devices that a person could wear just like a pair of goggles. It has one primary purpose: to immerse in a game through ‘virtual reality’. You will be exposed to realistic images, sounds and other sensations that replicate a real environment. That means totally blocking out all the external light with only high-definition screens flashing before your eyes.

Virtual reality headsets might sound like they are masterpieces of the new century. But history can tell that there is a similar device built by Hugo Gernsback, but obviously didn’t flourish because it was too soon.

The name ‘Hugo’ might ring some bells. There is a set of awards called Hugo Awards which are annually given to the best science fiction or fantasy works achievements. That is named after Gernsback, who coined the term “science fiction” when he was the editor and publisher of Amazing Stories, the first magazine of its kind. It was launched in 1926.

Having such a wild imagination about science, Gernsback was also an inventor. He produced remarkable ideas and projects. Among the most notable are the “combined electric hair brush and comb,” a battery-powered handheld illuminated mirror, and a wax-impregnated fabric strip for removing excess hair. Unfortunately, the “teleyeglasses” (virtual reality) isn’t part of this league.

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This invention, which is just like television in eyeglasses, weighed about 140 grams. It was built around small cathode-ray tubes running on low-voltage current from tiny batteries.

Some may think that it could trigger an electric shock, but Gernsback assured that his glasses were electrocution-proof.

It’s pretty much like the virtual reality glasses as it displays stereoscopic images with a separate screen for each eye. But the entire thing looks ridiculous indeed with the protruding V-type antenna. Nonetheless, the groundbreaking idea was there.

Proof that it was real? The teleyeglasses (virtual reality) was mentioned in a Life magazine feature in July 1963. Gernsback, who was 78 at the time, showed off his invention.

Source: LIFE
Source: LIFE (Virtual Reality way back in time)

A portion of the article tells:

“He now invents only in broad outline, leaving the actual mechanics of the thing to others. His television eyeglasses—a device for which he feels millions yearn—constitute a case in point. When the idea for this handy, pocket-size portable TV set occurred to him in 1936, he was forced to dismiss it as impractical. But a few weeks ago, feeling that the electronics industry was catching up with his New Deal-era concepts, he orders some of his employees to build a mock-up.”

Too bad that the business of teleyeglasses (virtual reality) did not prosper.

But if it did, generations of kids – including mine – might have been spared from the parents’ scolding of going too near the television. Gernsback’s device could prove that it’s acceptable to stay close to the TV.


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Engr Eva Allanigue
Chemical Engineering graduate with a passion in writing weird stuff at GineersNow. Official globe-trotter with luxury luggage, bags & accessories. Follow me on Linkedin


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