Conrad H. Ruppert: Visionary of the World Of Tomorrow
A Tribute by John L. Coker, III
Conrad H. Ruppert, pioneering Science Fiction fan, died on August 28, 1997, at the age of eighty-four. Regarded as one of the last of the early fans, he made numerous contributions to modern science fiction fandom from the late-1920s until the early 1940s, but he will probably best be remembered as a photographer and provider of printing services.
Ruppert described as ‘the thrill of a lifetime’ being able to witness the transformation of science and technology from when he first read of the marvels of television and rockets in the early scientifiction magazines in the 1920s, to the reality of watching a live broadcast of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in the summer of 1969.
“Connie” Ruppert was born on November 12, 1912, in Brooklyn, New York. As a boy, Connie enjoyed reading the adventures of King Arthur and Tom Swift. When he was ten years old, he was confined to bed for ten days with rheumatic fever, and among the magazines provided by his mother was an issue of SCIENCE AND INVENTION, published by Hugo Gernsback. It was here that Connie first experienced the sense of wonder which was to last a lifetime. He began reading every issue of the magazine that he could find, and when he was twelve years old, he applied for a card which made him a SCIENCE AND INVENTION reporter. He wrote a number of articles for the magazine, several of which Gernsback published. Over the next few years, Ruppert spent a lot of time in the public library reading as much science fiction as he could find, especially the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.
During 1929-30 while studying electrical engineering at Indiana’s Tri State College, Ruppert maintained an active correspondence with Raymond A. Palmer and Walter Dennis. As part of a campaign to promote a Science Fiction Week in 1930, Ruppert convinced newspapers in several major cities to run editorials in support of the idea. At about the same time, Gernsback was sponsoring a contest to recognize people for contributions to science fiction, and though Ruppert hadn’t even heard about the contest, Gernsback awarded him a second prize of fifty dollars.
Soon afterwards, while working as an assistant in his father’s bakery, Ruppert bought a small hand press. With his friend Donald Alexander, he formed ARRA Publishers, and began printing small booklets. They bought rights to reprint Merritt’s ‘Through the Dragon Glass’ and released it as their first publication. Shortly thereafter, Connie received a mimeographed copy of THE TIME TRAVELLER, science fiction’s first fan magazine. Ruppert contacted editor Allen Glasser, and after several meetings, they agreed that Ruppert would begin printing the magazine, starting with the third issue (March 1932). Ruppert’s production values greatly enhanced the appearance of the fledgling magazine, which led to an increase in the number of subscriptions and attracted the interest of many established writers, who were inspired to contribute material to the magazine free of charge.
During 1932-35, Ruppert produced some of the finest periodicals in the history of science fiction. He lovingly set the type by hand for several more of the monthly issues of THE TIME TRAVELLER, then with Julius Schwartz, Mort Weisinger, Raymond A. Palmer and Forrest J Ackerman, went on to produce other legendary fan magazines such as SCIENCE FICTION DIGEST, which eventually became FANTASY MAGAZINE. During the same period, Ruppert printed all eighteen issues of Charles D. Hornig’s monthly magazine, THE FANTASY FAN, the quality of which so impressed Gernsback that he offered Hornig an editorial position with WONDER STORIES. In addition to his duties as printer, Ruppert was at various times columnist, editor, advisor and business partner in these pioneering fannish enterprises.
In 1934, Ruppert had an idea of doing a comic strip about a super being, and he approached artist Clay Ferguson, Jr. about working on it. Ruppert wanted a strip where he would supply character development and story line, and Ferguson would illustrate it. The premise featured a young man from another solar system who fell in love with the princess of a planet. The king opposed this relationship and decided that the man’s punishment would be to be made immortal. The man and the princess were banished to the outermost planet, where they lived until his wife and children died. Over time, he gained extraordinary strength and exceptional mental powers, and traveled from planet to planet, doing good. They prepared a few strips to sell the idea, and Ruppert contacted the syndicates, but there was no response to his letters and they could find no publisher. After some time, they abandoned the idea.
By the mid-1930s, other commercial opportunities made it increasingly difficult for Ruppert to donate time each month to typesetting these magazines, and after FANTASY MAGAZINE’s Third Anniversay issue, William Crawford took on the printing responsibilities. However, Connie remained active in science fiction, and attended important meetings and regional conferences through the late-1930s, where he established friendships with such luminaries as H. P. Lovecraft, David A. Keller, Otto Binder, A, Merritt, Frank Belknap Long, Jr., Otis Adelbert Kline and Arthur J. Burk, and met aspiring young writers such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury.
In 1936, following the death of Stanley G. Weinbaum, the Milwaukee Fictioneers, with Schwartz and Weisinger decided to issue a memorial volume. Palmer managed most of the production. Although Ruppert was busy with other obligations, he printed the volume at cost, and on quality paper using leather binding with gold stamping.
In 1939, Julius Schwartz approached Ruppert about printing a souvenir journal for the first World Science Fiction Convention, which was to be held on July 4th in New York, and together they sold enough advertisements to raise the sixty dollars needed for the cost of printing. Connie produced a beautiful program book with a gold metallic cover and interior artwork by Guest of Honor Frank R. Paul. On the morning of the convention, Ruppert took his camera and stood outside of the hall with Schwartz to photograph the professionals and noted fans as they arrived.
It was during this same summer in New York City that Ruppert took extensive pictures at the 1939 World’s Fair, whose theme was ‘The World of Tomorrow’. Knowing that his involvement in fandom was waning at the same time that a war in Europe was brewing, the utopian vision of the 1939 World’s Fair certainly must have seemed to Ruppert to be the culmination of all of his efforts in science fiction over the past fifteen years.
After selling his printing business in 1941, Ruppert was drafted into the U. S. Army in April 1942, and received a medical discharge fourteen months later. After returning home to work and raise a family, there was not much time to devote to fandom, although he continued to read science fiction. His passion for color photography led him to begin taking scenic pictures and making 16mm films, and in doing so, he preserved for future generations the vanishing images of Eastern Long Island. Over the years, Connie received recognition for his award-winning pictures and he enjoyed putting on photo exhibitions and giving slide shows in the public schools. In 1989, thirty of Ruppert’s photographs of the 1939 World’s Fair were showcased in a book entitled ‘The World of Tomorrow’.
Then, amazingly, after a fifty-year hiatus from science fiction, Ruppert attended the 50th World Science Fiction Convention in 1992, where he enjoyed a reunion with Julius Schwartz, Forrest J Ackerman, Sam Moskowitz, and others. This event rejuvenated Ruppert, and he became involved in fandom again. During the last five years of his life, he renewed his written correspondence with long-time friends, assembled a set of his early publications, and began going to conventions and attending First Fandom reunions.
In April 1994, Ruppert received the Raymond Z. Gallun Award from I-Con at Stony Brook University, New York, and in May of the same year he had thirty-two of his photographs of the 1939 World’s Fair ‘showing science as a promoter and entertainer’ featured as part of a major permanent exhibition entitled ‘Science in American Life’ at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.