The Hugo Award is given every year for the best science fiction or fantasy stories of the previous year, and for related areas such as best science fiction art, best film, and best related book. The award categories have changed over time, as the field of science fiction has grown and changed. The winners are voted on by science fiction fans, and the awards are handed out at the annual World Science Fiction Convention.
The Hugo Award itself was co-designed by longtime SF fan and booster Benedict Jablonski who based the trophy on a rocket-shaped hood ornament from an Oldsmobile 88.
The first World Science Fiction Convention was held in New York in 1939. While "bests" had been voted upon at all conventions there were no awards until the 11th Worldcon (Philadelphia, 1953) and this was, at the time, considered a one-time event. However for the 13th Convention (Cleveland, 1955) it was decided to make the physical awards a permanent feature.
The 11th convention awards were the idea of Hal Lynch. The awards were hand-machined by Jack McKnight and consisted of a finned steel rocket on a circular wooden base. At the 13th Convention a new design, capable of "mass" production, was made by Ben Jason, it was largely similar to the first design but on a square base. It became the standard design for most of the following conventions.
At first the award was known as the "Annual Science Fiction Achievement Award", with "Hugo Award" being an unofficial name, but certainly the more well known. Since 1993, the nickname has been adopted as the official name of the award.
There are other awards, with different award conditions. The Hugo Award is awarded by fans. In contrast, the Nebula award is awarded by fellow writers (voting as a group). The World Science Fiction Convention also awards the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel is also presented at the Worldcon, but is not a Hugo.
While the WSFS rules state that the award is for works of science fiction and fantasy, in practice it has almost always gone to science fiction works. There were complaints when the 2001 Hugo for best novel was given to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a fantasy novel aimed at young adults.