Robert Anson Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri, on July 7, 1907, the son of Rex Ivar and Bam Lyle Heinlein. He was the third of seven children. After graduating from Kansas City Central High School in 1924, Heinlein enrolled at a branch campus of the University of Missouri near his home. His dream, however, was to follow his older brother Rex into the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Having solicited some fifty letters of recommendation in his behalf, Heinlein won an appointment to the academy in 1925. Commissioned with the Navy class of 1929, Lieutenant Robert Heinlein would serve only five years (as gunnery officer on several ships, including the first modern aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington) before a diagnosis of tuberculosis gave him a mandatory medical discharge in 1934.
For the next five years, Heinlein would try many occupations before becoming a writer. Pursuing graduate studies in physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, he also dabbled in architecture, mining, real estate, and state politics in Colorado and California. None of these ventures paid off, and Heinlein found himself in 1939, at the age of thirty-two, broke, with a mortgage, and virtually unemployable. A short-story contest in the science-fiction magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories offered fifty dollars. Tempted by the prize, Heinlein wrote his first story, “Life Line,” and sold it to the top science fiction magazine, Astounding Science Fiction, for twenty dollars more than the contest prize.
The editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the influential John Campbell, liked the story and wanted more. Thus, quite by accident, Heinlein became a writer. By 1941, he was supplying one-fifth of the contents of the magazine—he produced so much that Campbell insisted on publishing half of Heinlein’s stories under a pseudonym, Anson MacDonald. Heinlein was also the most popular writer in the magazine: He tied with “MacDonald” (that is, with himself) for first place in the readers’ polls.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II, Heinlein immediately reported to the Navy for wartime service. He was assigned to the U.S. Naval Air Experimental...
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