Elektro

Elektro

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Ladies and gentlemen, let me present the most famous robot of the 1930s: Elektro, the Westinghouse Motoman.  This gigantic golden mechanical man performed daily before packed houses at the Westinghouse pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair.  Mention the word "robot" to anyone before 1950 and odds are he'd be thinking of Elektro, which is interesting when you think about how quickly he slipped out of popular culture. By the '60s, it was difficult to even find photographs of the old tin.  Bad agent, I guess.

Standing on a platform high above the crowds, Elektro would go through his paces under voice control of his operator, who spoke his commands into a telephone handset as a light flashed in a hole in Elektro's midriff.  Elektro needed his operator to enunciate every word in a slow, stilted voice.  This seemed strange, since it appeared as if  Elektro could apparently understand colloquial English, but what he was really reacting to was the pattern of sounds that the operator spoke rather than the words. 

With a loud electrical whine, Elektro would walk about the stage in a slow slide that betrayed the rollers on his feet.  Despite his bulk, he was pretty much a hollow tin, as his operator could turn Elektro with a light push of one hand.  Other exciting things that Elektro could do was move his head and arms, count on his fingers, recognise colours, smoke cigarettes, and talk.  Is that Vegas I hear calling?  Elektro was basically a live answering service that actually performed the duties spoken to him by his operator. Even at this time, Elektro was answering to services and duties usually done by humans. Elektro was, among many things, a robot, a child recognizing colors and counting, a live answering service, a clown blowing up balloons, a man of the time, smoking like it had no repercussions and more. What other duties would Elektro have dabbled in had he been around longer?

William Jennings Bryant, Elektro was not.  His pro-nounce-each-syl-la-ble-like-this delivery was at odds with his tendency to call people "Toots" and make bad jokes.  Well, you can't really blame him, seeing as he had a brain of only "forty eight electrical relays."

Image courtesy of Jack Weeks

For those of a technical bent, here is what the workings of Elektro look like.

 

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