Category Archives: History of Robots

Garco the robot

A recent auction lot on eBay prompted me to carry out a little research. The photograph (right) shows Walt Disney with Garco the robot in a publicity still for the Disney TV programme  “Mars and Beyond” which aired on 4th December, 1957.

Garco appears to have been remotely controlled and not totally independent, but, for the time, was very advanced. The suggested uses he could be put to, in the vintage YouTube video (linked below), from the American television programme “Science Fiction Theatre” were:
• Handle dangerous chemicals, or
• Radioactive isotopes, too hot for the ordinary man, or
• Touch live wires without ever getting hurt

The programme’s presenter, Truman Bradley, goes on to say that, “some day soon, we’ll have an automatic man around the house, to mow the lawn, dry the dishes, drive the car, and babysit when we go out. That’s for tomorrow, or the day after, but tomorrow may come soon.”

Sadly, at the present time (sixty years on) I am still waiting for this automatic man to work in my home. I think it will have to be the day after tomorrow!

Read more here.

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.

Collecting robots on postcards – 9 – Enigmarelle

Enigmarell-post-card-front
This unusual, and admittedly rather creepy looking, postcard came up for sale recently on eBay. The “robot” on the left is Enigmarelle who was, according to the card, “the rage of London”. I was inspired to research a little further, and found an excellent article on the website cyberneticzoo (click here for article). As you may have guessed, it seems that there was a man inside the automaton with a false head on top of his own. That man was the unfortunate Alba Root, who lost both his legs in a railway accident when he was younger. Alba was able to ride a unicycle with artificial legs, and there a photographs of Enigmarelle riding a bicycle on stage.

I also discovered the following news story in a 1905 edition of The Entr’acte & Limelight.

The Entr'acte & Limelight masthead

Saturday 26 August 1905

“Enigmarelle” Again

Mr Garrett was engaged on Friday, at the West London Court, in hearing summonses taken out by Sub-Divisional-Inspector Crocker, T, against Mr. E. H. Dobson, manager of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Music Hall; Mr W. A. Bennett, Press representative at the hall; Mr. F. Ireland, and George Dee, for being concerned in causing an obstruction in Goldhawk Road by parading a mechanical figure called “Enigmarelle,” which had been exhibited at the hall. Mr. Philip Conway represented the defendants. Inspector Crocker stated that on the 8th inst. a coach and four, driven by the defendant Dee, drew up in front of the music-hall. A crowd of from 1,500 to 2,000 persons gathered. The coach waited some fifteen minutes, and then from a side entrance of the theatre emerged the mechanical figure, controlled by Ireland. The figure walked across to the coach in the centre of the roadway, and remained there nine minutes. By this time the crowd had increased to 4,000 persons, and witness requested Ireland to take the figure away. The coach was accordingly driven away, but it returned, and then the figure came out again, and by means of a ladder ascended to the box-seat of the coach and, taking the reins in its hands, drove off, followed by an immense crowd, which completely blocked the roadway. Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett both assisted the figure up the ladder, and apparently it drove off by itself. Previous to the occurrence witness had received a letter from Mr. Dobson announcing that it was proposed to make the experiment with the figure, and witness had an interview with Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett, who assured him that they would take the responsibility in the matter. Mr. Conway suggested that it was trifling with the procedure of the criminal law to summon Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett for aiding and abetting in such a trivial offence. Every information was given beforehand to the police, and arrangements were made for the observance of public order. It was not the fault of these gentlemen if a large crowd gathered. The Magistrate observed that there was no question that an obstruction was caused, and the common-sense view of it was that the defendants wished to advertise the mechanical figure. The larger the crowd the better the advertisement, and the object of the defendants was “to cause a crowd to assemble.” He fined Ireland 40s., Dobson and Bennett 20s. each, and Dee 5s.

In the same newspaper, on the front page, there was an advertisement proclaiming Enigmarelle as “the rage of London!” announcing that the mechanical figure would be appearing at the Empire Theatre, Nottingham.

Enigmarelle the rage of London

It is hard to believe that so many people were fooled into thinking that it was possible to create a mechanical man as sophisticated as Enigmarelle, and especially one capable of controlling a coach and four. There was even an article in the January 13, 1906 edition of Scientific American, headed “A clever mechanical and electrical automaton” in which they stated that Enigmarelle “is seemingly a mechanical and electrical combination. The figure stands exactly six feet in height, weighs 198 pounds, and is composed of 365 distinct and separate parts … the figure contains seven motors, which are of special design … there are fourteen dry storage battery cells of small capacity … at the back of the figure is the switchboard containing the rheostat, fifteen switches, three single levers, and three automatic brakes …” The full article can be read on the Cyberneticzoo website linked to above.

Enigmarelle postcard back