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Entries in robots (79)

Saturday
Aug202011

Smoking Robots of the Future (1931)

This picture of the bucket-headed Willie Vocalite appeared in the September 6, 1931 San Antonio Light. Designed by Westinghouse engineer Joseph Barnett, Willie appears to have been programmed with a fondness for nictoine. Early 20th century inventors sure loved to make robots smoke, (when they weren't shooting apples off their heads). So much so, that I'm surprised they didn't give Sparko his own robo-doggie cigs.

The mechanical man has been "humanized" in some respects and taught some of the manners of polite society. The Westinghouse robot shown in this photograph smokes cigarettes and obligingly "gives a light" to his companion. Another robot in Pennsylvania State College with a glass throat and water lungs puffs cigars all day long and reports scientific facts about tobacco which the most expert human smokers could not find out.

 

Wednesday
Aug032011

Doughboys become "iron boys" to fight wars of the future (1926)

Between 1918 end of World War I and the 1939 start of World War II, American newspapers sometimes ran stories about how robots would battle in wars of the future. Still shaken from the incredible death toll of World War I, people hoped for a time when robots would fight in the place of humans. Sometimes this was imagined as something to ensure that only your side wouldn't see casualties, but other articles predicted a time when wars would simply be decided by whatever nation's robots could conquer that of another nation's robots, leaving no human casulaties.

The December 25, 1926 San Antonio Light ran this illustration of the robot soldier of the future. The illustration is based on an unnamed mechanical man with RUR emblazoned on its chest. R.U.R., of course being the name of the play by Karel Capek that introduced the word "robot" to the English speaking world in 1921. The caption explains that doughboys of the future (a term for American soldiers fighting in WWI) might be called iron boys if they're one day replaced by robots.

Possibly in some grim war of the future the doughboy will have become the "iron boy." The army has enlisted its first mechanical man "Private Robot," and put him to work at Aberdeen proving grounds.

 

Friday
Jul012011

Miss Honeywell (1968)

Every new promise of futuristic technology brings with it the hucksters, the swindlers, and the merely confused. In the 1970s the three-wheeled Dale car was supposed to get seventy miles to the gallon, but both the car and its inventor were ultimately revealed to be frauds. In the 1930s American newspapers warned that a robot in England had risen up against its inventor and shot him.

In the mid and late 1960s a highly suspicious robot made the publicity circuit with its "inventor," magician Mark Wilson promoting everything from computers to blenders. With Wilson at the controls and a blue ladybot stiffly walking like a zombie to prove just how mechanical she was, it was quite a sight to behold. In this newsreel from 1968 the "robot" is known as Miss Honeywell and the narrator himself even calls into question the veracity of the operator's claims.

The "woman in a robot suit" stunt is so transparent as to likely be harmless, but you have to wonder how many people saw this robot's demonstration and thought it was real. As we know, there are still some children of the 1980's who think, thanks to Back to the Future II director Robert Zemeckis, that hoverboards were taken off shelves by overzealous child-safety groups.

The ad below of Miss Honeywell -- or in this case, the "housewife of the future -- appeared in the October 9, 1966 Oakland Tribune.

Come see the robot "housewife of tomorrow" plugged in October 10th to 15th.

The Hamilton Beach robot "housewife of tomorrow" will be demonstrated in our 15th and Broadway window. She is the amazing robot who is programmed to do all the cleaning. Watch the robot then come to the fourth floor housewares department to register for the free drawing for Hamilton Beach electric knives to be given away twice a day for each day of the demonstrations. Also demonstrations of Hamilton Beach's amazing blenders and carving knives.

Thursday
Apr282011

Push Button Lunch (1903)

This Professor Jyblitts cartoon from 1903 imagines an "automatic luncheon" similar to the automats that began popping up in the early 20th century. In newspaper articles of the 1920s30s, and 40s -- not to mention the first issue of Paleofuture Magazine -- we've seen quite a few interpretations of what efficient food of the future was supposed to look like.

1936 New York automat (source: New York Public Library)

Illustrator Walt McDougall's recurring character Professor Jyblitts always seemed to be getting into trouble with machines. In this comic, which appeared in the October 18, 1903 Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), Jyblitts passes an "automatic dining and lunch parlor" and is greeted by robot arms that relieve him of his hat, cane and coat. Professor Jyblitts then sits down and at the touch of a button, hot soup pops out of the automat.

Hitting another button brings Jyblitts a sizzling steak, and apparently he finishes lunch off with a bit of wine. Another push of a button clears the table automatically.

 

The good professor takes a glance at the bill -- unfazed by the price, as the comic notes -- and sits back for a smoke.

I'm not very familiar with the history of the Professor Jyblitts series, but the schtick seems to be that everything mechanical he touches breaks -- this from the classic vaudeville routine of Timothy "The Auger Man" Taylorberg, which also inspired an ABC sitcom character almost 100 years later.*

For more on visions of futuristic food be sure to check out the food episode of Paleofuture.tv and the first issue of Paleofuture Magazine

 

*Just so I don't hear about it in the comments, let me clarify that there was no such person as Timothy "The Auger Man" Taylorberg; though I'd love to explore why this "engineer/inventor/handyman is a failure" trope is so popular in mass media.

Sunday
Mar132011

Coming to America: Alpha the Robot Hops the Pond (1934)

February, 1934 Practical Mechanics (image: http://www.davidbuckley.net/)

In 1932 American newspapers started publishing wildly exaggerated stories about a British robot named Alpha that allegedly blinked to life, rose to his feet, and shot his inventor. Some of the stories quoted the inventor, Harry May, as saying that he knew Alpha would turn against him one day. An editorial from Louisiana even proclaimed that the era of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was upon us. But just two years later Alpha made a trip to the United States in a whirlwind of guns, gizmos and girls.

In this film from 1934 we see Alpha shooting a gun loaded with blanks, answering questions about his height and weight, and being particularly mean to a brunette who apparently wasn't blonde enough to be Alpha's bride. Though Professor May claimed that Alpha autonomously responded to speech with 20 or 30 wax cylinders that played pre-recorded answers, this seems quite unlikely.

The November 5, 1934 issue of Time magazine describes a demonstration of Alpha at Macy's department store in Manhattan:

Last week Alpha, the robot, made its first public appearance in the U. S. One of the most ingenious automatons ever contrived by man, a grim and gleaming monster 6 ft. 4 in. tall, the robot was brought to Manhattan by its owner-inventor-impresario, Professor Harry May of London, and installed on the fifth floor of R. H. Macy & Co.'s department store. Encased from head to foot in chromium-plated steel armor, Alpha sat on a specially constructed dais with its cumbrous feet securely bolted to the floor, stared impassively over the knot of newshawks and store officials waiting for the first demonstration. The creature had a great sullen slit of a mouth, vast protuberant eyes, shaggy curls of rolled metal. In one mailed fist Alpha clutched a revolver.

It's rather peculiar to read later in the article that he's described as giving a Nazi salute during the demonstration. There's no clear indication of what could be viewed as a Nazi salute from the film I've seen, and without a byline for the Time article I can't even begin to guess about the writer's sympathies.

The end of the article does help to clarify what happened that day, when Alpha was purported to have sprung to life and shot his inventor:

Once it fired its pistol without warning, blasting the skin off the professor's arm from wrist to elbow. Another time it lowered its arm unexpectedly, struck an assistant on the shoulder, bruised him so badly that he was hospitalized.

Top image cropped from a February, 1934 issue of Practical Mechanics magazine featured at davidbuckley.net

Thursday
Feb032011

Canada's Drugged Up Dystopia (1969)

Remember back in the year 2000 when you'd feed your brat kids their breakfast pellets, head to work under the city's weather controlled dome, your computer overlords only knew you by your nine digit identification number, and you'd end your day fantasizing about a life before computers?

The January 18, 1969 Montreal Gazette ran this most peculiar comic, chock full of hilarious expositional dialogue and dystopian delights. 

We follow the futuristic misadventures of George Daedalus, also known as Daeda 928 502 467, in the year 2000 AD. George lives in Oshtoham, Canada's second largest city -- which I'm guessing is a combination of the cities Oshawa, Toronto and Markham-- and works as a travel agent. George lives his life surrounded by technological wonders like robot servants, videophones, moving sidewalks and 3D hologram walls, but we come to find out that he's really just not that happy. The last panel shows George taking drugs and using a computer to escape his reality. Boy am I glad I don't live in that future!*

 

 

*Is there an emoticon for nervous laughter?

Previously on Paleofuture:

 

Friday
Jan282011

Watching Television With My Robot Butler (1932)

The December 4, 1932 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) ran this illustration accompanying a piece titled, "Looking Ahead Another 50 Years." 

TELEVISION -- The husband at home in bed is able to sweep the mechanical eye through the shopping district and see what his wife is doing. He also has all sorts of appliances for supplying almost anything he needs, including a robot valet, who is seen approaching with his master's suit of clothes.

Early visions of television often imagined live broadcasting without any narrative arc, like from this 1930's collectible card that we looked at a few months back.

Previously on Paleofuture: