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“The Isolator“ – A bizarre helmet from 1925 designed to improve work productivity

David Goran

Hugo Gernsback (August 16, 1884 – August 19, 1967), was a Luxembourgish-American inventor, writer, editor, engineer, designer, businessman, and magazine publisher. Published from May 1913 to August 1929 and started by Hugo Gernsback, a magazine called Science and Invention encouraged scientific curiosity and amateur scientific experimentation. Gernsback started the magazine to showcase scientific experimentation and new inventions/inventors. In 1926, he launched the first science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, the first magazine devoted solely to what he referred to as “scientifiction.” Printed on the cheapest paper available, Gernsback decided that his fiction magazine would carry only stories set in the future or involving elements of unknown or highly advanced science and technology.

Hugo Gernsback, Father of Modern Science Fiction

Hugo Gernsback, father of modern science fiction. source

His contributions to the genre as publisher were so significant that, along with the novelists H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called “The Father of Science Fiction”. The World Science Fiction Society’s Annual Achievement Awards, established in 1953, were named “Hugos“ in recognition of the great work he did to promote the genre. He is also a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Science fiction pioneer Hugo Gernsback wasn’t simply the founder of Amazing Stories and Science and Invention, he was also a creative inventor and futurist. His name was always prominently displayed on the cover and inside each of his magazines and each issue featured an editorial by Gernsback himself in the first few pages. Above all else, he was a tireless self-promoter.

The author at work in his private study aided by the Isolator. Outside noises being eliminated. The worker can concentrate with ease upon the subject at hand.

The author at work in his private study aided by the Isolator. Outside noises being eliminated. The worker can concentrate with ease upon the subject at hand. source

No, this invention wasn’t for deep sea exploration – it was for desk work. Gernsback revealed this device in the July 1925 issue of Science and Invention magazine, which included a photo of the inventor himself demonstrating its productivity-boosting qualities.

“The Isolator” making its debut on the July 1925 cover of “Science and Invention.”

“The Isolator” making its debut on the July 1925 cover of “Science and Invention.” source

The Isolator’s main purpose was to block out all the noise from the surrounding environment and narrow the field of view to only let you see the page in front of you. It was designed to improve concentration through total sensory isolation and to help focus the mind when reading or writing. Once a person put this helmet over their head, they were complete cut off from sound, which, by the inventor’s reasoning, would make the wearer able to concentrate better. The helmet even had an oxygen tube attached so the person could breathe. While most of his tinkering dealt with radio construction and design, “The Isolator” was just one of his other odd creations. The invention, as well as Science and Invention, was the brainchild of Gernsback.

isolator front view

A close-up view of the Isolator helmet. The oxygen supply enters the helmet via the tube shown. source

However, for every invention that actually makes it to production, there are dozens of failed ideas. Like the fact that they’re painfully inefficient, totally unnecessary or just plain bizarre. Although not all of his ideas came to actualization or proved to be practical, his enthusiastic predictions, speculations, and suggestions certainly inspired many future scientists and fiction writers. By the time of his death on August 19, 1967, Gernsback held 80 patents.