EPCO plays checkers . . . and wins

Electopak-Robot---full-picThis rare photograph, seen for sale at an online auction site recently, was, I believe, taken in about 1937. I have managed to find an article in Automatic Age magazine (link) which I believe tells the story of this robot. I’m not too certain because the vendor of the photograph states that it may have been taken in the 1950s.

Electopak-Robot---detail2 Electopak-Robot---detail1These two detail shots highlight the reward of $150 “to anyone who beats the robot playing checkers”, and the mirror above the robot on which the crowd can watch the game of checkers being played by the robot.

The Automatic Age article, The Story of Epco – the Mechanical Man, described how John T. Bradford, the world’s champion master checker player, was beaten by Epco. “Mr Bradford played two games with the Epco robot. The crowd, completely encircling the booth many rows deep, drew in closer to watch the match. It was a dramatic situation, intense from not only the competitive angle but also because of the fantastic atmosphere. … Bradford, a human genius, whose mind is highly developed and attuned to intensive thinking, and Epco, an electrical robot, a thing of cold metal, wood, wiring and electrical gadgets. They played, man against machine! The Epco robot, calmly and mechanically sure of each move, relentlessly checked every maneuver of the world’s champion to gain a decisive victory.”

They played again and Bradford, “although a true genius”, could only manage a draw.

More research is needed, but I have to say I am rather suspicious that there may have been a man inside Epco.

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