Facial Hair Friday: Isaac Asimov

Today’s post comes from Thomas Richardson an archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

Isaac Asimov seated on a stack of books, 1976. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Science fiction aficionados know the name Isaac Asimov well. Author of over 500 books and short stories, Asimov’s creations became staples of science fiction. The Foundation and Robot series rocketed him to fame as a writer of hard science fiction. Asimov was a prolific nonfiction writer as well, authoring dozens of books on physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, and history. He also sported some amazing sideburns in his later years. 

Born in Russia into a family of Jewish millers on January 2, 1920, his family immigrated to the United States in 1923, and he became a naturalized citizen in 1928. A gifted student for science, he took courses on zoology, medicine, and finally settled on studying chemistry. During World War II, he was employed as a chemist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It was here that he became acquainted with Robert Heinlein and Lyon Sprague de Camp, two other future science fiction writers. Their brainstorming sessions on engineering and physics would have a profound impact on Asimov’s future literary career. 

Asimov briefly served in the Army in 1946, and following his discharge, he received his Ph.D. and began teaching biochemistry at Boston University’s School of Medicine. Asimov soon started writing short stories and then his first novel, Pebble in the Sky, in the 1940s and ’50s. For the next 40 years, Asimov wrote hundreds of science fiction works and became a fixture in the science community. He delivered numerous science lectures, wrote textbooks, and edited dozens of short stories and novels. Asimov won several writing and science awards and served as president of the of American Humanist Association. 

Journalist Simon Bourgin’s 1975 interview with biochemist and science fiction writer Dr. Isaac Asimov. (National Archives Identifier 54491)

In 1977 Asimov suffered a heart attack, and after undergoing coronary bypass surgery in 1983, he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. He and his family decided not to disclose the condition due to the public controversy surrounding HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. He died on April 6, 1992, and in 2002 his widow, Jane Jeppson Asimov, finally revealed his death from HIV/AIDS complications in a revised edition of his autobiography It’s Been A Good Life.

Isaac Asimov’s Official Military Personnel File is held in the National Personnel Records Center. His record is categorized as “Persons of Exception Prominence,” which includes known public figures like political leaders, cultural figures, and other celebrities. For a complete list of other PEPs and how to view their records, visit the National Archives at St. Louis, Persons of Exceptional Prominence

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