Archive for November, 2009

1931 – Willie Vocalite – Joseph M. Barnett (American)

Westinghouse's first robot was "Herbert Televox" built by Roy Wensley out at their East Pittsburgh, Pensilvania plant. Wensley left Westinghouse, but another man of metal was born.  Referred to as the son of "Herbert Televox", "Mr. Vocalite", later called "Willie Vocalite" was conceived and designed by Joseph (Barney) M. Barnett, member of the Westinghouse Engineering Department at their plant in Mansfield, Ohio. Barnett became interested in Robots while working in the East Pittsburgh works of the company where he met Wensley, and after being transferred to Mansfield, developed a few of his own ideas in Mr. Vocalite. The robot's name "Vocalite" gives some clues to his improvements, namely now responding to vocal signals, not whistle signals, and light control through the use of photo-electric cells.  Let's not forget Rastus and Telelux, constructed by Thomas and Kintner, that also responded to light control, and were fixed to a base, but were not men of metal, but men of rubber, at least externally.

WillieVokalitep5 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

WilliePremiere1931 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

What can Willie do?

In himself, he can rise from a seated position, move either arm independently by rotation at the shoulder, he can be seated again, wink his eyes, and he can smoke cigarettes continuously. Having a "televox' supervisory control unit, he can turn on and off any electrical appliance connected to him. Typically he shows domestic appliances being turned on and off, from vacuum cleaners, electric lights, fans, radios, washing machines, heaters, mix masters, and the like. His eyes are said to glow scarlett in colour.

Other claims are that he can salute, indicating an elbow action, and fire a gun, indicating a finger action. Other than a claim for a 'me too' status, I can see no evidence that Willie fired a gun. Maybe an attachment to the hand was made, or the gun was fired remotely as per the other devices. Certainly the fingers are rigid in all the versions.  One image has Willie holding a recipe book, indicating that his wrists could rotate, but most likely not powered. 

There are at least two versions of Willie Vocalite, mainly indicated by the number of "buttons" on the front of his suit. The four button suit Willie appears around 1937 when he took an ocean voyage to Hawaii. This version also allows his head to turn for the first time.  The third version, now called Willie Westinghouse, has a modern three-button suit! He also has a neck allowing an up and down movement, as well as the sideways movement. His elbows now bend. His fingers are rigid, but there is evidence they were not necessarily rigidly fixed to the palm of the hand.

If adapted with a taste sensor (referred to as "electronyx" in one of the press articles, which is actually a highly sensitive ampere device testing acidity), Willie was also said the be capable of 'tasting' food.  

popscijun1931p61   Copy x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

How does Willie  work?

As mentioned in his opening premier article above, Willie responds to syllables spoken into a telephone handset. Each syllable momentarily flashes a light source. The light shines on a photo-electric cell, which triggers the grid-glow tube, starting electrical current in his "nerve centre". The current operating relays that perform a particular function. Three syllables starts the robot, four stops him. Each command has to complete before Willie is ready for the next one.

Grid glow tubes also known gas-filled triodes or thyratrons. The tubes are comparable in application to lock-in relays, wherein a small amount of power is used to turn on comparatively large currents from a local source. I will write about these in a separate post.

Most images of Willie Vocalite and Willie Westinghouse show an electronic apparatus next to him. This is essentially the "televox" unit.

 WillieApparatus2a 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 The single tube unit [detailed below] is the grid-glow tube.  The rack at the right hand side of the photo is the relay rack. It is basically the same unit out of the portable "Televox" unit, marked in red in the image below.

WillieApparatusdetail x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 TelevoxGridGlowTubep1a 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

The portable "Televox" unit as used in "Herbert Televox".

WillieApparatus x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 chicago fair westinghouse robot x640   Copy 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 [Note: you can see the single grid-glow tube next to Willie's left arm.]

 med mechanical willie x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

petit journal x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 vokalitewillie x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 WilliV p1 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 Willie at the Ford trimotor National Air Transport opening ceremony, Newark Airport, 1931.

Westinghousevv x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

  willie01 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)  Willie Westinghouse – 3 button suit, articulated elbow, up and down and sideways movement of head because of neck.

 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

willie02 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 WillieVokalitep1 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

willie vocalite girl 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 Willie1932ad x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

LaCrosseTribuneAndLeader-Press10031935p13WillieVocalite

A glimpse into the future will be presented when "Willie" Vocalite, Westinghouse mechanical man, makes his first appearance in this city. Willie Vocalite has been, called the "scientific marvel" by electrical engineers and scientists all over the United States.
This famous mechanical man will come to this city as the guest of the Food, Home and Flower Show at the Avalon ballroom March 12-14.
As the appearance of this scientific marvel never fails to attract capacity crowds, the management is making every effort to see that every person in this territory who wishes to see the exhibition will get the opportunity.
Willie Vocalite is the latest addition to the already famous family of Westinghouse mechanical men. He is now on tour through the country, displaying his talents to hundreds of thousands of persons who are interested in seeing what steps science is taking to advance the wants of man.
Makes Life Easier
"Willie" is an exemplification of what scientists are accomplishing to make life easier for man. By personifying him through the addition of a body, this mechanical man been made into a figure of popular appeal. When his operator, E. A. King gives "Willie" a command, the huge mechanical man responds immediately.
He sits down, stands up, fires a pistol, raises a flag, talks, smokes, runs a vacuum sweeper, and performs many other interesting tricks. King simply issues the command into a telephone and it is instantly obeyed.
The same system of control that makes "Willie" perform has already been used to turn electric signs on and off by the approach of daylight or nightfall, start and stop motors at predetermined times, control traffic signals, and count various colored moving objects. In addition to the presentation of this scientific achievement, a group of high voltage tricks will be given by Vocalite's operator. A three-inch electric spark will travel along ten feet of wire, eight-inch sparks will be sent from a brass ball and light a Neon tube, and a cotton wick will be lighted simply by the touch of the operator's foot.
Two Years to Develop
Westinghouse engineers say that it took approximately two years to develop Willie Vocalite. The system of photo-electric cells and relays has been made in this figure to give a concrete example of the application of this kind of electric equipment. In appearance "Willie" stands over six feet in height, and weighs approximately 350 pounds. His body is made from pressed steel, which is formed into a girue closely resembling that of Ihe human body. He is mounted on a pedestal, and from that position, does his tricks. A special truck has been made to take this mechanical marvel around the country. Shortly before the first exhibition in this city, the truck will parade through the streets to give the citizens some idea of what they will see when they attend one of the performances.

williead33 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 WillieAlbuquerque1938 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

Albuquerque Journal 25 Dec 1938 p22

The imagination of both children and grown-ups is inhabited by many strange creatures. One of the strangest monsters ever described by the pen, the "Golem" of ancient Hebrew transcript, is reproduced by science in the shape of Willie Vocalite, a mechanical robot for the performance of tedious or difficult jobs. Willie talks and acts by means of photo-electric tubes and he tastes foods with an "electrynx" so sensitive that it will record the acidity of fruits to one millionth of an ampere.

WillieApron1935 x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

willie today mansfield x640 1931   Willie Vocalite   Joseph M. Barnett (American)

 Scott Schaut's excellent book on Westinghouse robots ("Robots of Westinghouse – 1924 – today", 2006)  gives a lot of detail and more pics which I wont include in this post. 


1934 – Fortune Teller – (British)

FortuneTeller1934 getty3259016 1934   Fortune Teller   (British)

robotselfridge 1934   Fortune Teller   (British)

A photograph of a robot exhibited as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations for Selfridges department store in London, taken by Edward Malindine for the Daily Herald newspaper on 13 March 1934

1933 – Mr. Ohm Kilowatt – Earl Kent (American)

RobotOhmkilowattp3x640 1933   Mr. Ohm Kilowatt   Earl Kent (American)

MrOhmKilowattp3 x640 1933   Mr. Ohm Kilowatt   Earl Kent (American)

Portsmouth Times 21 Feb 1933 p8

TECHNOCRATIC MAN OF 1940?—This conception of the machine age product by youthful Earl Kent, 21, of Carthage, Miss., "walks, talks, smokes cigarettes and spits fire". Kent, the inventor, is pictured with it in Los Angeles. Betty Davis, young saleswoman who "made a sale" to the robot is telling him that the change soon will be here.


robot ohm kilowatt 1933 1a x640 1933   Mr. Ohm Kilowatt   Earl Kent (American)

Earl Kent hiding behind Mr. John Kilowatt Ohm, as he is known in this photo.


1932 – George Robot – Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 The 1932 George Robot by Capt. William H.Richards is an improved version of the 1928 Eric Robot.

There is also a later 1952 version named Robert Robot with a different head, but I have no record of who owned and operated Robert Robot back then [1].

 GeorgeP1 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 The 1932 head is more sculptured, rounded than the later, more chiseled-looking head.

Georgep2 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 dictionary robotericv2   Copy x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 CaptRichardsGeorgeAge20sep1935   Copy x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

The Age (Melbourne) 20 Sep 1935 

Meet Mr. Robot
Not Forgetting His Master.

Melbourne has had the honor of being the first city south of the Equator to entertain George, one of the most famous figures in the world. He is the leader of a new race of beings; one of the most marvellous scientific products of the twentieth century. Wherever he goes with his inventor, Captain W. H. Richards (English journalist and author) he establishes a reputation for obedience and versatility. For those readers who unfortunately will not be able to make George's acquaintance at the wonderfully attractive electrical exhibition, we had a talk with him and Capt. Richards, and learnt the following interesting facts:—
It took five months to produce George; he behaved well enough till it came to getting him to stand up properly. Not that he was lazy; in fact just the reverse, for instead of getting up from his seat slowly and with dignity, like a king of Robots should. George would rise straight up like a jack-in-a-box. However, with firm perseverance, Captain Richards succeeded in getting him to bow before rising.
George has only one suit – it is made of smooth polished aluminium, and has an apron of mail. As it a not showing sighs of wear yet, it will probably do him for a long time. But he can display many moods, and if asked to show his teeth purple sparks appear in his mouth, accompanied by a sinister hissing.
As George was designed for travel, he had to become a perfect linguist, and when commanded, can talk in French, German. Hindustani, Chinese and Danish, as well as his native English.
When packed for travelling in his case, George weighs half a ton. Australia is the fifth continent he has "done" in his busy three years of existance, and he once gave a special performance for the Danish Royal family.
George's young brother, which Captain Richards built several years ago, has lost favor since George appeared, Captain Richards explained. This first robot cost £140 to make, which sounds plenty, and although he had a brilliant and exciting career-he was shot at once by the night watchman of a New York theatre— the appearance of George put him right out of countenance. George was the educated gentleman, alongside his rough-hewn awkward brother, and when you know that George cost almost £2000 you can't blame him altogether for being uppish.
Just how George is made is a secret, but the principle of his operation is that the voice of his master penetrates George's  armor, strikes the 3-inch diaphragm of a microphone, which, according to the word spoken, transmits electrical currents which are harnessed to the sensitive mechanism for controlling such actions as the moving of his head, raising his arms and standing up. What is George's inside like ?" the Captain was asked. "Most disappointing." he said, "nothing but gears and cranks, just like a watch on a large scale."
 

George robot ex build australia1935 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

stamp 1935 melb exhibition x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

GeorgeRobotSMH3apr1936 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 George – Sydney Morning Herald, 3 April, 1936. – Note the squarer style of head.

Robot   article   Copy x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 Above and  next two Images courtesy Brian Precious (UK)

Robot   display area x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

Robot   front cover   Copy x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 SVbilderdienstgate00053003 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

1931 richards robot press 1 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 Feb 3, 1931. In Denmark with the British Prime Minister Sir Thomas and Lady Hohler.

131114171215 eric robot richards tea horizontal large gallery x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

110119737 robot known as mr robot takes coffee with a gettyi x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

466705173 captain william richards has designed and gettyima x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British) 

capt richards george robot 1 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)


george capt richards robot 1930 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

robert robot richards 001 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

1952 and now called Robert

Eric1952p1 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

BE044458| Standard RM| © Bettmann/CORBIS
Woman With Early Robot On Tv Show
Original caption: 2/24/1952-Robot-Soup's on, so Robert stands by in the kitchen, ready to hold the handle of the hot pot for his mistress, Diana Dors, who samples the pot's contents. Robert, in his uncomplaining way, is a valuable adjunct to any household, Diana believes.
Image:    © Bettmann/CORBIS –  Collection:    Bettmann Standard RM Date Photographed:    February 24, 1952  

Eric1952p2 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

 BE044448| Standard RM| © Bettmann/CORBIS
Diana Dors with Robot
Original caption: 2/24/1952-Dunsfold, England: Tete-a-tete in the Hamilton living room co-stars Robert, the man of steel, and Diana Dors, lovely film and television star. One of Robert's few bad features is that he's a bit cumbersome. The ingenious robot, built by Diana's husband, Denis Hamilton, from spare parts found in the cellar, weighs in at a mere 330 pounds.
Image:    © Bettmann/CORBIS. Collection:    Bettmann, Date Photographed:    February 24, 1952 , Location Information:    Dunsfold, England, UK 

[Ed. – Robert the robot was not built by Denis Hamilton as suggested, but by Richards himsef!] 

Eric1952p3 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

U1186811INP| Standard RM| © Bettmann/CORBIS
Denis Hamilton Playing Cards with His Wife and a Robot
Original caption: "No cheating, please," Robert cautions, as he sits down for a friendly hand with his bosses, Dennis Hamilton and pretty Diana Dors. After dinner dishes are out of the way, it's fun to have a quiet game with the man of steel. Image:    © Bettmann/CORBIS.  Collection:    Bettmann . Date Photographed:    February 24, 1952

robert robot dors 52 7 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

robert robot dors 52 10a x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

robert robot dors 52 1 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

robert robot dors 52 2a x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)

robert robot dors 52 5 x640 1932   George Robot   Capt. W.H. Richards (British)


Video Clips

I have located 2 clips.

1. http://www.archivioluce.com/archivio/jsp/schede/videoPlayer.jsp?tipologia=qtPlayer&id=&physDoc=2364&db=cinematograficoCINEGIORNALI&low&findIt=false&section=/

2. http://www.gaumontpathearchives.com

At Gaumont Pathe above, you have to register then log in and search for these under the English version:

PJ 1930 010 7 – AS IN THE NOVELS OF WELLS

3012GJ 00006 1930  – BERLIN, GERMANY. THE WINTERGARTEN THEATRE PRESENTS CURRENTLY THE HUMAN MACHINE "ROBOT" OF ENGLISH CO.


[1]-13 November 2014. I've had it confirmed by correspondence  with  surviving Richards family correspondence that there were actually three robots built by Richards, and 'Robert' is the third.  Further, I've had it confirmed that Denis Hamilton did not build Robert as suspected, but actually stole him from Richards. 

See Richards Eric the Robot here.

See other early Humanoid Robots here.


1932 – Alpha the Robot – Harry May (English)

This Robot has had several guises over the years. From large, round, eyes with lamps in them and large ears with microphones, to a female form with curly hair breasts on the chest plate, and then one with insulators on its head. It also has many names, including The ROBOTER, ALPHA, Astra*, Mary Ann, Eric, Albi/Algi. 

 Roboter2 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Alpha1932p102 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English) alfa 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 Robot Alpha
Time magazine
Monday, Nov. 05, 1934

 

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.

Professor May, a dapper, blond, beak-nosed man in his middle thirties, signaled his assistant who drew a curtain behind the stage, revealing the massive control cabinets to which the robot was wired.

Said the crisp British voice of Professor May: "Wake up!"

The eyes of the automaton glowed red.

"Stand up!"

The robot clicked and whirred. Pivoting at knees and waist, it slowly stood up.

"Raise your right arm." Alpha gave a tremendous Nazi salute.

When commanded, the robot lowered its arm, raised the other, lowered it, turned its head from side to side, opened and closed its prognathous jaw, sat down. Then Impresario May asked Alpha a question:

"How old are you?"

From the robot's interior a cavernous Cockney voice responded:

"Fourteen years."

May: What do you weigh?

Alpha: One ton.

A dozen other questions and answers followed, some elaborately facetious. When May inquired what the automaton liked to eat, it responded with a minute-long discourse on the virtues of toast made with Macy's automatic electric toaster. Finally when May requested the creature to raise its arm and fire the pistol, the arm went up, the metal forefinger pulled the trigger, the firing-pin fell with a click. Professor May explained that store officials would not permit him to use blank cartridges.

Alpha's master asked his auditors to give any of his questions and commands, using exactly the same words. Sometimes the robot responded promptly, sometimes not until Professor May repeated the words.

For such pictures as King Kong Hollywood has devised automatons capable of more complex movements than Alpha, but never one that responded to the human voice. Anxious to avoid any suspicion of ventriloquism or of a hidden assistant pushing control buttons, Professor May removed the robot's breast plate, disclosing a mechanism like the interior of an ordinary radio. Publicly he explained that Alpha's repertory of answers consisted of 20 or 30 recordings on wax cylinders, as in oldtime phonographs, which were run off in the control cabinets and reproduced from the loud speaker in the robot's chest. Alpha cannot really understand language, but he can respond to a variety of set questions the answers to which have been prepared in advance.

Privately Professor May explained more. Heart of the robot system is an ordinary cathode-ray oscillograph, an electronic device which, when voice modulations are converted into electrical impulses as in a telephone, makes a jagged up-and-down record of them. Since different voices are differently pitched the device is rigged to ignore absolute pitch but to respond to relative pitch variations which occur in sequence in certain word combinations as pronounced by most speakers. Different combinations of variations close different combinations of relay circuits, and each combination of circuits is hooked up to the appropriate wax cylinder which supplies the answer, or to the proper motor which moves the robot as directed. Thus Alpha may answer "Seven" when asked "How many days in the week?" but remains dumb if the question is phrased "A week has how many days?"

Alpha was not quite correct in giving its age as 14. Professor May, a clever free-lance experimenter in electronics who is now working on voice-operated safes for banks, conceived Alpha 14 years ago but did not endow the robot with its present versatility until last year. He says it is now foolproof although it has not always been so. 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.

 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 Robot in these pics was referred to as "ASTRA". In a separate artcle from the San Antonio Light 11 Sept 1932 p4 reported that back in England, the inventor himself wanted to be called "ASTRA", not the robot.

*I've seen another image where ASTRA is the name of  the inventor, not he Robot.

 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

AlphaRUR 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

alpha astra x640 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

alphapaolozzi 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 (above) English artist / sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi used Alpha in one of his 1960 collage 'Dr Dekker's Entrance Hall'.

roboter6 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

alpha robot spanish x640 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

robotto3 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)4702422 400 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

alpha robot 1936 hungarian bookcover x640 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Havas Zsigmond: Az acélember. Ifjúsági regény. A Tolnai Világlapja karácsonyi számának dijtalan melléklete. Sebők Imre rajzaival. Budapest, 1936.

The steel man. Hungarian youth novel, 1936. Author: Zsigmond Havas. Cover and illustration: Imre Sebők.

Image source – see here.

0970553TopFotoAlpha22Aug1932 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

ALPHA at OLYMPIA – Alpha appeared on the Mullard Valve Company stand at the London Radio Exhibition at Olympia, 1932.

 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English) 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Alpha1932sit(1) 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 Alpha DRKp1 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 Alpha getty3313348 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)monsterrobot1932dailyheraldarchive 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)Alpha getty3301595 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Alpha getty3396120 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)Alpha getty3330938 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

  RobotAlpha18081932 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

  1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

FEMALE FORM (ASTRA* / ALPHA / Mary Ann)

I think there was only one Roboter/Alpha/Astra*/Eric by which either the head was replaced, and also the chest plate changed (breasts or no breasts), or no chest plate at all.  I have not been able to piece together any evidence that there were multiple copies made.

0434290Nov1 1934 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 2324761006 52069ff661 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Alpha Kate Smith Speedboat 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 alphaheadp1 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 AlphaJolson 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 31 Jan 1935, New York, New York, USA — Let George Jessel, Al Jolson and other famous masters of ceremony beware. For now we have "Alpha" the mechanical man (robot), acting as master of ceremonies in "contrast," the revue at the Radio City Music Hall. Here Alpha is announcing the next number, as some dancing girls wait, "on their toes." — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

robot topfotoCLAS001986 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Gender Problems

Although in female form (head with curly hair, long eye-lashes, breasts), there are still images, movies clips, and press articles that refer to the female form as "The Perfect Boyfriend". The movie clips suggest the same, as one will deduce by the conversation and the masculine voice used.

RobotAlphaFemaleHead 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 RobotAlphaMacys24Oct1934 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

1935 version of Alpha. San Diego Exposition.

Alpha, the Robot, was one of the exhibits in the Palace of Science (now Museum of Man). The 1935 Official Guide Book stated that Professor Harry May, Alpha's inventor, could make the 6 ft., 2 in., 2,000 pound mechanical man roll its eyes, open and close its mouth, shake its head, sit down, stand up, move its arms, fires a revolver, and answers questions with amazing precision.

AlphaPathe1934thumb 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English) Video – Pathe News' THE FACE OF THINGS – TO COME! (ALPHA THE ROBOT) 6/12/1934
Alpha the Robot answers questions from a man and flirts with a girl. Here's the blurb that goes with it – Titles read: 'The face of things – TO COME!' – Location of events unknown – United States of America?

Various shots show a huge talking robot man with curly hair called 'Alpha'. A man beside him asks him to raise his arm and fire a pistol, which he does. In reply to the man's questions Alpha says he is 6 feet tall and weighs 1 ton.
The man asks if Alpha likes little boys or little girls and the robot says "No!" He does like the ladies so a young brunette girl appears and asks Alpha if he is married. He says not yet and tells her he likes blondes. The girl looks discouraged. When told by the man to take another look at the brunette Alpha decides that "She'll do!".
This is a weird one!
Note: according to paperwork this film originated in the USA and the girl has an American accent, but the man and the robot sound English. Paperwork lists Mr Yearsley and Mr Redknap as having sections of narration – perhaps it was dubbed, or maybe it was just an American story about an eccentric Britisher! (comments made by British Pathe).

 alpharobotadvert 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)  1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Dangerous Robot!

AlphaMonster1932 x640 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Portsmouth Times 23 Sep 1932 p25
IT was going to be a very scientific evening. A large group of dignified British society folk had gathered at Brighton, England, to see Harry May demonstrate the marvelous versatility of Alpha, his enormous, wireless-controlled mechanical man.
Mr. May had so perfected his two-ton robot, it was said, that the mechanical man responded immediately to spoken orders to smoke, read newspapers, walk, telltime, and even answer questions. It was whispered, too, that at the climax of the performance Mr. May would get Alpha to shoot a gun at a target. Well, the show went on and the macabre monster the inventor had created did his stuff with amazing precision and with almost human intelligence. The audience was thrilled but just the least bit frightened. The, thing was, even when scientifically explained, a little too uncanny for comfort. They were convinced that it was by no trickery or hocus-pocus that May operated the steel-encased robot. At the beginning of the performance the inventor had exposed the anatomy of Alpha by removing the steel partition that covered its chest.
The spectators saw's highly intricate arrangement of mechanical and electrical apparatus. They had been further enlightened by May's explanation that various tones of his voice, carried on air waves to the monster, set the hidden machinery in operation, resulting in Alpha doing almost everything a human being could do. There was an impressive lull. The lights in the hall were extinguished. A ghastly', blue spot-light, the only illumination in the hall, shone down on the gigantic figure of Alpha and the smaller one of his creator. "And now, ladles and gentlemen," said May, "I will demonstrate to you what is perhaps the most astounding accomplishment in this mechanical man's repertoire. At a spoken word of command he will pick up a revolver and fire a bullet directly at the target on the rear wall.
Through the mind of every person present crept the memory of Mrs. Shelley's tragic and terrible fiction story of "Frankenstein," the man who created a mechanical monster that destroyed him. Despite the suave ease and complete mastery May had so far exhibited in controlling the monster, many could not hut feel that in teaching the brute of steel to shoot off a gun the inventor was tempting the fates, going a little too far. "It's a blank cartridge in the gun, I hope," exclaimed one nervous onlooker in the crowd. "Oh, no," explained May, "In order to demonstrate the confidence I have in Alpha I have for this ono occasion put a real bullet in the revolver. He will shoot it when .I direct him to. Alpha's mechanism is so delicately sensitive to my voice that he will not only fire the gun but he will aim it perfectly and will score a bull's eye on the target you see before you." A murmur went through the crowd. The nervous onlooker and two or three others started for the door. "Please wait a minute, ladies and gentlemen. I assure you there is no danger," pleaded the man en the stage. Reluctantly the frightened men and women mice more took their seats. May walked over and placed a loaded revolver in the robot's "hand."
"Before performing this feat," said the lecturer, "I will try to explain how Alpha accomplishes these marvels, which you have seen and which no other robot has ever been able to master. "You. have heard him talk, answer my questions, read newspapers. This monster, which resembles a man in armor, can do almost anything I ask him. Photo-electric cells are concealed in the gratings that cover his eyes, and his ears are disguised microphones. When you see him obey my commands as you have tonight, he is acting without any other human aid. And now, ladies and gentlemen—" He turned towards "Alpha" but as he did so a startled cry left his lips. Women in the audience screamed and men shouted warnings. Without awaiting May's orders, Alpha had risen from his seat and was pointing the revolver right at his maker! The nightmarish story of Mrs. Shelley was coming true in real life — right before the fashionable English society group's eyes!
"Stop, Alpha. stop!" ordered the frightened May. "Drop that gun and sit down."
But almost as he spoke the monster took a step forward — and fired. May instinctively put up his hand, and this probably saved his life, for the fired projectile shattered the inventor's right hand held close to his throat. In the excitement that followed the monster stood stock-still pointing the revolver. Mr. May's voice could be heard exhorting Alpha, "Back to your chair, Alpha, and drop that gun." To the astonishment of all, the mechanicaI man obeyed instantly, the revolver clattered to the floor and he backed up step by stop and sat down in the chair. "Now, stay there." said May. Five minutes later the hall was empty of everybody but Mr. May and Alpha. When the inventor was attended by a doctor for his punctured }land, he was philosophical about the mishap. "I always had a feeling." he said, "that Alpha would turn on me some day, but this is the first time he ever disobeyed my commands. I can't understand why he fired before I gave the proper signal." Far from discouraged, Mr. May will continue his interesting work. But it was not announced whether target practice for Alpha would be included henceforth in his regular routine.
 

Winnipeg Free Press
WINNIPEG, THURSDAY,'SEPTEMBER 6, 1934 

Robot At Toronto Show Turns on Custodian and Smashed Him on Shoulder
(Canadian Pressss Despatch.)
Toronto, -Sept; 6.—Michael Harley, of London,- England, custodian of "Alpha," the robot woman being displayed at the Canadian National exhibition, Wednesday crept from hospital with a sore shoulder and a bad case of the jitters. He went back.to look after "Alpha" with some trepidation after she belted him Tuesday with" a mailed fist and knocked him to the floor. He was standing with his back to her. He had uttered no word of command, but suddenly the mechanical woman swung on him. '"Alpha," 'after turning on her master, stood motionless and expressionless till someone else started ordering her around.

The latest guise…(San Diego 1936).

alpha 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

ALPHA San Diego 1936

San Diego Sun, February 29, 1936, EXPOSITION EDITION

Robot Alpha Nearly Human: Professor Harry May presents Alpha the Robot in a metallic theater in the heart of the Fun Zone; he also presents the Death Ray machine in another part of the Exposition.

Alpha the Robot, a 2000-lb., chrome-plated, steel giant, received visitors in the Palace of Science. He stood up, sat down, answered questions, smoked cigarettes, blinked his eyes, and fired a pistol on command.77 When Alpha was asked if he loved his wife, he replied ungallantly: "I've a heart of steel. I don't love nobody and nobody loves me."78

Alpha was not the technical marvel he appeared to be since an unseen operator controlled many of his movements.79

San Diego Union (hereafter SDU),
78. SDU, 7-19-35, 5:6-7.
79. Erwine, p. 69.

53. San Erwine, "The 1935 Expo: Sally Rand and the midget men to the Rescue," in San Diego Magazine, Vol. 17,June 1965, pp. 66-71.

Alpha DRKp2 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

RobotALPHA 2 x640 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Above: Touched-up press photo shows incorrect bulbous head profile.


Identity problems:

Probably due to the success of Capt. Richards "Eric the Robot", one of the film clips (British Movietone here – you need to register first, then search for "ERIC THE ROBOT" ) refers to Alpha as Eric.  As mentioned above, this robot has had other names, including The ROBOTER, ALPHA, Astra, Mary Ann and Albi/Algi. 

Anatomy:

The below picture was claimed to be the anatomy of "Alpha".  Access to Alpha's innards appeared to be via its chest, and this image has what appears to be the entire back section removed.  The image is very unclear. If  someone can verify it, or link itwith anoth robot, please let me know. My email address is on the "About" page.

 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

Interesting mention of the Star and Garter Home in Richmond, U.K. and that May may have been involved in prosthetics.


alpha our future servants x640 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)


Alpha survives today, watching passer-byers from the front window in Fanny Ann's Saloon in Sacramento. (left of window, facing right).

Alpha Fanny Anns Sacramento 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

"Hey Reuben, yes there is one of those alpha's in the front window at Fanny Ann's.Years ago I got the arm to move up and down and turn his head. The wiring is so bad that it started smoking so I unplugged him. I had an electrician look at him, but the cost was way too high,but here he sits watching all the people go by. If your in town stop by and check him out."
    Mac@ Fanny Ann's Saloon

Thanks to Bob Pierlock for the advice and Mac McCulloch,  the owner who confirmed it. 

 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)


The Practical Mechanics (February, 1934) article below  reveals a little about how Alpha works. It is generic and gleans information from Capt Richards "Eric", and Wensley's "Televox". 

Like most robots of the times, Alpha probably had several modes of operation. From a sequence of actions based on a voice signal (I suspect sound control, but not tone control i.e. any loud sound within close vicinity would trigger it. Another possiblilty is that once triggered into a sequence of actions, it is the operator who is in sync with the command sequence, so rather than giving the commands, they are pre-emptying the next command sequence.   When it comes down to question and answer, again it is a choreographed event, with a pre-recorded recording (wax cylinder, movie/talkies film), or in most cases an out-of-sight operator using a wireless link. Depending upon the  event, any or all of these controls may have been deployed.

 alpha1 x640 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)

alpha2 x80 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)alpha3 x80 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)alpha4 x80 1932   Alpha the Robot   Harry May (English)