Robert Ettinger Biography
Brief Biography of Robert C.W. Ettinger (courtesy of The Immortalist Society)
Birthplace, Degrees Attained, Short Work History, and Development of Concept of Cryonics
Robert (Chester Wilson) Ettinger was born on December 4, 1918 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He spent much of his life in the Detroit, Michigan area. Attaining Master's Degrees in both physics and mathematics, Mr. Ettinger, shown above at various times in his life, worked at both Wayne State University and at Highland Park Community College. When he was growing up, he first came upon a science fiction idea of keeping people at the point of their clinical death until future science could help them in a story called The Jamison Satellite. In this story, an individual has his remains sent into orbit where they would supposedly be subjected to near zero temperatures. In the story, it isn't a group of humans who wind up helping revive the individual but a group of mechanical men with organic brains.
This story, which Mr. Ettinger came across when he was still a relatively young boy (around twelve years old), seems to have been the seed in his thinking about a concept he developed which is now called cryonics. As Ettinger later wrote: "It was instantly obvious to me that the author had missed the main point of his own idea! If immortality is achievable through the ministrations of advanced aliens through repairing a human corpse, then why should not everyone be frozen to await later rescue by our own people?"
Service/Wounding in World War II
In the intervening years, Mr. Ettinger served, along with millions of other men and women in the United States, in World War II as a soldier in the United States Army. While serving as a second lieutenant, he was wounded while in combat which necessitated a long period of recovery. During this recovery, he continued to educate himself, among other things, about topics of interest to the idea that was brewing in his head. In particular, he read the works of Jean Rostand, a French biologist who had worked in the area of low temperatures and biological systems.
Initial Science Fiction Story Involving Cryonics/Hesitation About Writing Book on Cryonics
In 1948, Mr. Ettinger wrote a science fiction story which was called "The Penultimate Trump". It appeared in the March 1948 issue of the magazine Startling Stories. In it, the outlines of the concept of cryonics were visible. Many more years passed, however, until Mr. Ettinger wrote his seminal work The Prospect of Immortality. As he wrote years later, the reason for the delay was "...for the simple reason that I had, and have, no credentials worth mentioning, being only a (now retired) teacher of college physics and math. It is precisely this that prevented me, for so long, from doing more: I knew I carried no weight, had no formal qualifications, and was not suited for a leadership role. But as the years passed and no one better came forward, I finally had to write..."
Preliminary Version of and Final Form and Publishing of The Prospect of Immortality
Mr. Ettinger first published his world-changing book as a preliminary version in 1962. Before that, around 1960, he had written up the idea in a few pages, emphasized life insurance as the primary means of funding (which is still frequently true today), and sent his concept on to a couple of hundred people from Who's Who In America. Not getting much of a response led Mr. Ettinger to the realization that a longer version of his concept was needed and this led to a preliminary version of his book. The preliminary version gathered some attention and led, in 1964, to the Doubleday Publishers putting forth a hardcover version which ultimately became a selection of the "Book of the Month Club".
Formation of Cryonics Organizations/Additional Books
Robert Ettinger was later instrumental in the formation of the Cryonics Society of Michigan which eventually was renamed as The Immortalist Society. In the 1970's, he and three other individuals formed the Cryonics Institute, where over one hundred individuals, including Mr. Ettinger, are now in special devices which will hold them at the temperature of liquid nitrogen (minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit). Robert Ettinger continued to work tirelessly through his adult life on behalf of his concept, both writing prolifically on the topic and spending countless hours of his time for free. Both of these efforts basically acted to strengthen the Immortalist Society, the Cryonics Institute, along with other cryonics organizations and the general field of cryonics itself. Further, they were an inspiration for other leaders in cryonics who came along after him. In addition to the book he wrote which basically launched the field of cryonics, he published two other books related to the subject. The first was a volume entitled Man Into Superman. A final book, written in his later years, was entitled Youniverse.
Placement of Robert Ettinger in Cryostat
In July of 2011, Mr. Ettinger, shown at left in his later years, was placed in a cryostat (a device to hold things at ultra low temperatures) under the care of the Cryonics Institute, the organization he had been instrumental in helping to found some thirty-five years before. Also stored at the Institute are his mother and both his first and second wives.