MODERN ELECTRICS, VOL IV, No11
In an interview with hoverboy.com, Rob Goodwin, publisher of NASA Mission Reports and science fiction historian, told us,
"...when he [Hugo Gernsback] came to America in 1904, the first thing he did was he spent $30 of his first $100 on buying a bucket."
Hugo Gurnsback according to Wikipedia,
(August 16, 1884 – August 19, 1967), born Hugo Gernsbacher, was a Luxembourg American inventor, writer and magazine publisher, best remembered for publications that included the first science fiction magazine. His contribution to the genre as publisher was so significant, that along with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes popularly called "The Father of Science Fiction". The annual Science Fiction Achievement awards were named the "Hugo" in his honor.
Shortly after we met at FANEXPO 2007, Rob was kind enough to send me a scan of the issue in question, pictured above.
Since that day, Rob's statements has had me simultaniously excited and confused. Excited because it means the influences of Hoverboy's origins might go back much further than the L'IL BUCKETBOYshorts of the early 30's. However, I was confused by his assertion that Hugo Gernsback's would spend $30 on a bucket in 1912, when you could buy a loaf of bread for a dime. Had Hugo not understood American currency? Or had this story become exaggerated in the mists of time? The answer, as it turns out is much more interesting...
After some research headed up by Hoverboy archivist Brad Abraham in New York, we've been able to shed some light on this mystery. It turns out that "Buying a bucket" was a term used in conjunction with the "Slopping" industry of the early 1900's. In the crowded, dirty streets of New York at the turn of the century, slopping was a booming industry. Animal feed, water, milk, and feces all needed to be transported quickly and cheaply. "Sloppers" were really the bicycle couriers of their day.
By "Buying a Bucket", you bought not only a physical bucket, but the slopping rights to a particular piece of territory. It's to Hugo's good fortune that he had not arrived a few years earlier. For years, bloody cut-throat wars between organized Slop-Gangs had raged in NYC. But by the time Hugo landed in 1904, the city had intervened and regulated the slopping trade. From all indications, Hugo bought a feces slopping bucket in the lower East side and turning it into a thriving milk slopping bucket; which earned him the money he needed to transition to importing wireless radio parts from Europe to the United States. The rest, as they say, is history...
It may be those early days as a young immigrant Slopper were the inspiration for the cover pictured above.
Like with the L'il Bucketboy shorts, it's difficult to determine exactly what influence, if any, this issue of Modern Electrics might have had on C.L. Nutt or Bob Stark in the creation of Hoverboy in 1937. Though both men's fathers were farmers, Stark once said in an interview that his father had a keen interest in early wireless radio, though which he was convinced he could talk to God.
Thanks to Rob Goodwin, Brad Abraham, and Niles Renforth for contributing to the research for this article.