Posts Tagged ‘1937’

1937 – Telepathic Robot, The Scientific Miracle – (British)


Telepathic Robot – The Scientific Miracle photographed by Humphrey Spender – September 1937.


The Scientific Miracle Robot    

Copyright Bolton Council Image ref. 1993.83.24.35 Print ref. 1993.2.135

Description: The Mass Observers recorded overheard conversations about how this miraculous talking robot worked, and whether it was all a scam.

Source: here.

Worktowners at Blackpool: Mass-Observation and Popular Leisure in the 1930s
By Gary Cross, 2005

[Like everything else, the occultist is being replaced by the machine.]
This would be the civilised development from the gypsy and pyramid to technology and Unilever. One step from the gypsy giving your lucky number and health forecast is `Telepathic  Robot, the Scientific Miracle'. According to its spieler on Pleasure Beach, it is a

miracle of modern mechanism with a mysterious radio-brain that will describe all manner of your possessions and answer any question that  you put to it. It is baffling, bewildering, and uncanny, and it is the topic of argument  wherever it goes. How  can it know so much about you? By what means can it so actively and quickly tell you the  answer to your most perplexing problems? You will find yourself coming back time after time to stand and watch and wonder how it is done, and just when you think you have discovered the secret, it will say something that explodes your theory.

It is built like an enormous weighing machine in Martian-human form. Where the dial of the weighing machine would be, there is a glass front revealing electrical coils and other gadgets inside, and in particular two electric bulbs glowing green with an effect of monster's eyes. A spieler gathers a crowd around the machine:

  'Let me introduce you to the most wonderful piece of mechanism the world has ever known. I expect many of you will remember that I personally had the honour to introduce it at the Exhibition at Wembley, at the World Fair in Chicago, and at the International Exposition in Paris, and in many other places. Now I am not going to bore you with a technical description of how this truly amazing machine works, but will content myself with showing you a few of the things that it can do. But first let me convince you that I am not, as is often suggested, a ventriloquist. You know that it is not possible to say two things at once —  not even your mother-in-law could do that. I am going to ask the Robot to talk, and then talk myself.' … [After this] he goes around the audience, about sixty in number,  and  asks  them to show him small articles, and these the Robot describes. … `Let’s see if we can get something tricky — anything  you like from a  battleship to a brassiere, the Robot will describe it’. … [The Robot] describes someone wiping his nose, a paper with music on it and the composer's name, Schubert.  … He now says, `Well, ladies and gentlemen, you must admit this machine is very wonderful.  But what you have just seen it perform is nothing. Today this machine is progressing many stages further. It will actually describe you. In the form of a horoscope it will give character delineation. It will describe you better than your own mother could hope to describe you. Nothing private will be disclosed. It prints your character by electricity. But my time is short. The Robot gets overheated very quickly. So please have your money ready.'
   First a woman, 55, gave him sixpence, and he asks the Robot to describe the coin. Then he makes the Robot name the woman's lucky number as he goes to the machine and draws out a paper which he folds and hands to her. … Then he goes  back to the Robot and repeats his speech from 'a correct horoscope and true delineation of your character. All your love affairs, all your business affairs. …'

Throughout 1937 and 1938 observers heard this speech continually, and it never altered. The character charts dispensed are constructed in the same way as the booklets at the Ellis booth. Eighty-six possible characteristics are typed and crosses are put in against certain of them. A four-line analysis of character appears at the top of the page under which appears, `For Amusement Only':

  You were born under a lucky star and should make the best of every opportunity that presents itself. Life holds good things in store for you, but do not  abuse the gifts that are offered you. Keep bright and cheerful and optimistic.
     Most of characteristics marked are complimentary but there are also `self-opinionated', 'fond of criticising', and 'have your  share of troubles'. In four tries, all mark 'You  are very  good  company'. On its average  prediction for age, payers  would live to over 72; none below  70. An  hour's observation showed Robot's turnover at £3/10.

   How its answers are engineered is a thing we failed to find out after a season's attempts. A familiar method where answers are involved is the use of a code, although we have not yet traced one here. One of our observers asked the Robot, 'What am I?' Reply: 'A Mass-Observer'.

See other early Humanoid Robots here.

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1937 – A Radio Robot – Everard Edmonds

1937 - A Radio Robot - Everard Edmonds

1937 Radio Robot by Everard Edmonds

Constructional Details of an Amusing Robot that Talks and Sings are Given in this Article. 

Source: December 4th, 1937    PRACTICAL AND AMATEUR WIRELESS    p337

MAN has created figures in his own image from the very earliest times. One recalls the Colossi of the Ancient World ; the marble statuary of Phidias, so perfect that it became imbued with life ; the figurehead that, bound to the bow of their ships, brought our Norse forefathers to this England ; and, finally, those re-creations of historical characters which have made Mme. Tussaud famous.
I remember, as a lad, becoming so enchanted with the Sleeping Beauty and her clockwork-heaving breast that I could scarcely be dragged away! And, on another occasion, when I first witnessed the speaking doll of a ventriloquist, my excitement knew no bounds, and I sent a shilling off post haste to learn this fascinating art —but, alas ! for my ambition, my patience failed to match it, and the power was never acquired.
Simple Construction
To-day, however, it is possible for almost anyone to construct in relatively little time, and with inexpensive materials, a most amusing Robot, whose active jaw and dancing eyes as he recites a poem or sings a song will entertain for hours!
First a suitable mask is required—one of those sold for the celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day will do very well. This may be mounted as shown in Fig. 2—the lower jaw having been first cut away. To the latter a T-shaped piece of paper may be glued, so that, when the jaw is fixed in position, the cross of the T stands behind use eyes, and may have drawn upon it two lovely black — er -pupils!
On the upright support are mounted the magnets and armature of a discarded electric bell. To the armature the lower jaw is now affixed, and we have the simple elements of our Talking Robot.
As the actual operating current will be relatively large, it is, necessary to construct the following relay system—a system well worth assembly, as it may be used for wireless control of models, selenium cell operation, etc.
Referring to Fig. 5, the wires leading from the Robot are connected to a relay R1, ..also made from a discarded bell, which closes the circuit of a two-cell cycle lamp battery (Fig. 6), thus operating the jaw and eyes of the figure. The contacts of this relay are the armature itself, and the pole pieces of the magnets, and, in order to prevent sticking, a small square of thin sheet-copper was soldered to the contact face of the armature.
Relay R1 is operated by R2 and a small 4.5 volt flashlight battery. R2 is the sensitive 5mA "Fulton" Relay sold by Electradix, Ltd., and it, in turn, is actuated by a valve. The latter may be any amplifying or power valve, and should have the requisite grid bias battery, as indicated in Fig. 5. The plate and H.T. +    terminals go to the relay, and the grid and filament to the secondary of an ordinary intervalve L.F. transformer in the usual way.

A lead from the primary of the transformer is plugged in to the loudspeaker output terminals of a wireless receiving set (a portable receiver makes the whole assembly entirely independent of connecting wires to the mains, etc.) and it is now only necessary to tune in to a broadcast of speech or song when the Talking Robot will tell you all he hears A microphone connected to the pick-up terminals of the wireless set will enable you to talk through the figure so that, with a friend, you might give a most entertaining dialogue !
The figure may be completed with an overcoat and hat (Fig. 4) or in almost any way the constructor fancies. My own model sits on a chair the portable receiver being arranged underneath (Fig. 1) so that there shall be no interaction between the relay circuits and the aerial of the set. Condensers C1 and C2 have been included for this reason, but, of course, there is still a little interference, which can. only be entirely eliminated through the use of separate wireless sets for the sound, and for the operation of the figure—the latter set having the loudspeaker switched off.

Fig. 1.—The robot mounted on a chair with the portable set underneath.
Fig. 2.—Method of mounting the face mask and lower jaw.
Fig. 3. (left).—The battery and relay sections of the apparatus.
Fig. 4 (above).—The completed robot ready for work.
Fig. 5 (above).—The arrangement of batteries, components and connections.
Fig. 6 (right).—How the relays are covered to deaden sound.

Download pdf here

See all the Early Humanoid Robots here.


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1937 – The Robot Gargantua – “Bill” Griffith P. Taylor – (Australian/Canadian)

The Robot Garguantua.

gar·gan·tu·a -n.
A person of great size or stature and of voracious physical or intellectual appetites. [After the giant hero of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais.]

Like most, including myself, the true significance is lost in the title ("An Automatic Block-Setting Crane") and opening description of the original article published globally in Meccano Magazine, March 1938.

The original re-discovered documents now published in full book form.

In February 2013,  Chris Shute contacted me about "Meccano Robot Gargantua".
Although I was aware of it, but must admit to: 1. trying to keep away from industrial robots, 2. mistaking the robot taking it for an elaborate 'crane' when I first saw it, 3. didn't study it well enough to realise it was programmable, 4. assumed someone else more recently attributed to word 'Robot' to it, and lastly, 5. I didn't take note of its early publication date. I'd like to think my research is normally very good, but incorrect pre-conceptions let me down.. Anyway, I've now been corrected and amazed after reading Chris' story of The Robot Gargantua re-produced below.

"In March 1938, the Meccano Magazine published a brief article describing an automatic crane of stunning complexity. Have a look at Meccano Magazine, March 1938 p172, viewable via: . A single motor drove all the motions of this monster machine, capable of building complex structures from wooden blocks automatically. From the original photograph, it was difficult to tell if Gargantua was even made from Meccano, or whether it could really do all that was claimed. Nobody had ever built anything so ambitious in Meccano.
A full description and more detailed photographs lay hidden for nearly half a century until the Liverpool Meccano factory was demolished. Constructor Quarterly magazine published them in a book with notes by John Woollatt and the late Bert Love and Alan Partridge. The creator of Gargantua was a 21-year-old student, Griffith ‘Bill’ Taylor, the son of Scott’s Antarctic geologist. Bill died in 1996, having spent most of his life as a professor of civil engineering in Sydney, Australia. I built the ‘Robot’ programmer in June 1997 and met Bill’s widow and son. They encouraged me to build the whole crane, which I did during the following 12 months, about 400 hours work. Here's a picture of my reconstruction. The main features are:
 • A single motor drives all motions.
 • The grab can also rotate – power comes through the suspension cords.
 • Mechanical limiters protect against over-driving.
 • Control levers are situated at the base of the tower, not on the jib.
 • No electronics are used apart from five solenoids.
 • Sequences up to 3 hours long may be controlled by punched paper tape.
 • Contains over 4000 washers, 300 collars, 200 gears and 100 pulleys.
 • Non-Meccano parts: 4 bricks, 2 rollers, paper, wood, Ford Sierra fan motor.

This is the only known complete reconstruction of Gargantua. I believe it was probably the world’s first truly programmable place-and-put robot. I feel it deserves a place in the history of robotics."

Chris continues in a second email.

"I believe Bill Taylor submitted his article to Meccano Magazine late in 1937, after completing the machine. Roman numerals on his typed manuscript read "MCMXXXVII". His notes say the machine was "the result of 3 years "effort". The lead-in time for publication, and the surface mail time from Toronto to Liverpool would be considerable. Many mechanisms used in Gargantua are unique, and would have made good magazine features individually, at the time. It's puzzling why neither the magazine nor Meccano did not exploit Gargantua more. A Pathe Newsreel in July 1937 featured a Meccano loom, for example. Bill Taylor was born in August 1916, making him only 21 years old at the time of completing Gargantua, while still studying for his engineering degree. A remarkable acheivement. I've attached a picture of my reconstruction of the 'Robot' (as it was called) i.e. the device that pulls and pushes the pre-existing 5 control levers for the crane. Mine is the same size as the original. Each lever, top left, has a central neutral position and can move linkages to large dog-clutches in transfer gearboxes dedicated to each motion. The crane can be driven manually if the "Robot" linkages are disconnected. Then the lever ends must be squeezed to release any lever from its locked position, like an old semaphore railway signal lever. The 'Robot' is driven by the same single motor as the crane, via a driveshaft seen just right of the control levers. A Meccano Dog Clutch can disconnect this drive. A 5-digit counter, like an old electricity consumer meter, top right, is used to count the revolutions of the motor. My paper tape transport is slightly modified, using a capstan and rubber pinch roller, as in a reel-to-reel tape recorder, for constant paper speed, and therefore constant sized holes cut in the paper. When drive to the take-up paper drum is engaged, a light brake is applied to the feed drum, to keep the paper taut, and simultaneously, 5 wipers press down on the paper. When a hole arrives, a circuit is made to one of 5 solenoid coils. In the original device, these were home made (mine are 1960s standard Meccano parts). Power for the coils would originally have come from 4 large 1.5 volt dry cells (seen in the original magazine picture, about the size of a beer can). Mine use 12 volts from the motor supply. Lower right, I've added a cable to 5 pushbuttons for manually firing the coils during demonstrations. The (weak) solenoids do not actually engage any gears. Instead, they cause some of the main motor's power to act upon the control levers. Five differentials are driven from the motor through their RH half-shafts. A light brake on the LH half-shaft causes the diff cage to spin fast but with less torque, reduced still further by 1:5 gearing to a shaft above carrying a 2" rod in a Handrail Coupling. When the solenoid is energised, its core moves a rod left to jam this spinning rod, whereupon the LH half shaft will turn, overcoming its light brake. A 7:1 reduction to a shaft above moves a long linkage to the relevant control lever. After a quarter-turn of this shaft, a roller and sprung linkage will flick the solenoid rod right, thus releasing the differential cage, and movement of the control linkage stops. The quarter turns permit a sequence of Forward-Neutral-Backward-Neutral to be engaged for each drive. This seems an elaborate device to engage/disengage gears, but it does the job well, using only a single coil for each motion, requiring only 5 possible holes in the paper roll (3 1/2" wide, used for adding machines in the 1930s). Since the same motor drives both the paper and the crane, synchronisation is reliable. the distance between holes equates to the number of motor revolutions allocated for each operation. In practice, when any motion is required to arrive at an end-stop position, a few extra revolutions are given, to overcomes light discrepancies caused by slippage, for example of the string/pulley drives in the grab. All motions have mechanical limiters at their end-stops, so this is not a problem. The tower-buiding was planned on graph paper and a table of the required motor revolutions for each motion is calculated. (e.g.opening the grab requires 150 revs). From this, it is possible to write a 'program' of events (= paper holes) defined by motor revolutions starting at 00000. The program is transfered to the paper roll by disengaging the drive to the 'Robot' and cutting a hole over a wooden backing strip. For stacking 24 blocks, over 500 holes must be cut. An error of 1mm on the paper roll could translate into about 1"for a block's position. Editing/correcting of the program is done with sticky tape. But the system works. Errors are generally down to the 'software', not hardware."

Chris has an expanded version of his story published in 2007. see pdf here.

Historical Significance

I've largely left Industrial Robots out of my website, but I feel that The Robot Gargantua deserves to be recognised as the first currently known Pick-and-Place Robot built, so I'll add a page on the short history of Industrial Robots.

The First Industrial Robots:

The Babbitt invention of 1892, mentioned in many Industrial Robot timelines, is not a robot at all under any definition. The Babbitt Crane patent has no mention of anything automatic, is not programmable and is under manual control using hydraulics.  Also no evidence of it being built, none that I've found, anyway. It appears to be an arm to grasp and remove hot ingots from a furnace. It may look robotic in today's terms, but that's as far as it goes.

  • 1935-7 – The design, construction, and submitted manuscript of The Robot Gargantuan.
  • 1938, March – The publication of The Robot Gargantua in Meccano Magazine.
  • 1938, April – Pollard's Positional spray painting robot patent was filed in April 1938. This I would call a robot by current definition.
  • 1939, August – Roselund filed his spray-paint robot patent – less of a robot than Pollard's due to the cam-drive nature, which , although good for repeatability, not good in re-programmability which defines an Industrial Robot.
  • 1954, March – The Brit Cyril Kenward filed his patent , beating the Devol patent by a few months .
  • 1954, December – Devol's patent filed and granted in 1961. 

[Update 2 Mar 2012 – Pollard's son, Pollard Jr., produced an earlier patent for an automatic spray-painting machine. Filed on 29 Oct  1934, granted on 27 Aug 1940. From an article on parallel robotics by Ilian Bobey in 2003, the patent consists of two parts: (1) an electrical control system and (2) a mechanical manipulator. The control system consists basically of perforated films, the hole density of which is directly proportional to the speed of each motor. The mechanical manipulator, on the other hand, is a parallel robot based on a pantograph actuated by two rotary motors at the base. Pollard Jr.'s patent was eventually issued on June 16, 1942, but, in the meantime, a license was granted to the DeVilbiss company in 1937. In 1941, DeVilbiss, later to become the first industrial robot supplier, completed the first prototype under the direction of Harold Roselund. Roselund's spray painting robot, later patented in 1944, was not a parallel robot and used only the control system proposed by Pollard Jr. ]

Control Unit – photo by Chris Shute.

Above: Detail of Control Unit


The gripper.

All photographs by Peter Haigh – see supersize originals here.

1937 – The Mechanical Elephants of J.G. and George W. Shrum (American)

Source: Leader Post, 24 July 1984. Most likely a Shrum elephant.


Source: Victoria Advocate, 12 May 1938. Supposedly six were built and three were sold to the New York World's Fair (1939).

Source: Modern Mechanix May 1937

Mechanical Elephants walk 500 miles

USED for advertising purposes, two mechanical elephants constructed by J. G. and George Shrum, brothers, of Miami, Fla., have walked over 500 miles through the principal cities of the state. Both elephants are operated by eccentric gears and travel on rubber tired wheels in a walking motion.
Powered by a single cylinder motorcycle engine, the completed smaller elephant stands 7 feet, 3 inches high, 11 feet long, and 4 1/2 feet wide. Costing $800 to build, it is controlled by a steering apparatus at the base of the head and has a walking speed of 6 m.p.h.
The larger elephant stands 10 feet, 9 inches high, 14 feet long, and 8 feet wide. Powered by a four-cylinder motorcycle engine, it has a walking speed of 7 m.p.h., and cost $8,000 to build.

Caption: J. G. Shrum (top), of Miami, Fla., sits atop a mechanical elephant built by himself and his brother, George. Lower photo —George Shrum shows the elephant uncovered. A motorcycle engine, eccentric gears and wheels enable the elephant to walk.

Source: The Leader Post, 22 July 1937.

Source: Miami News Aug 29, 1938. 

Source: The Evening Independent, 5 Nov 1936. This article describes what's most likely to be the smaller Shrum Mechanical Elephant.

Source: Newsand Courier, 21 Jan, 1938.

"Rosie" the Mechanical Elephant

Shrum does a deal with Hutton, "Rosie' is the ex-Hutton ("Jumbo") mechanical elephant.

From: Leo Casey – Director of Public Relations, N.Y. World's Fair 1939-40

"Three thousand pounds of mechanical elephant (with a roguish twinkle in her eye) arrives at the New York World's Fair under her own "steam". Rosie, for such is her name, is buying her ticket under the supervision of George Washington Shrum (astride), one of five brothers of Columbus, Ohio, who invented and built her. Two automobile motors actuate Rosie who can wink her eyes, walk and even shag. Note the headlight forward of her forehead. She will demonstrate her abilities in Carnivaland in the Amusement Area of the Fair. At the left is Mrs. Bertha Shrum, ventriloquist, wife of one of the inventors, and Johhny Boomerang, who is of the same impudent persuasion as Charlie McCarthy. The others in the photograph are visitors to the Fair who happened to be at the ticket window."

Rosie, the Mechanical Elephant in the Children's Parade and Carnivaland.

Source: Ruston Daily Leader, 21 March 1944 (sorry for poor picture quality).


Source: Waycross Journal, 7 Jan, 1941. "Rosie" the mechanical elephant.

Source: The Billboard Jan 31, 1942.

Again, the ex Hutton elephant now owned and operated by Shrum.


Source: The Billboard  Feb 7, 1953.

As reported in The Evening Independent, 3 Jul 1967, "a single-engine plane with a 70-year old man at the controls crashed into a radio tower deep in the florida Everglades yesterday. The crackup killed George Washington Shrum of Miami, the pilot, ……"

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1937 – “Professor Arcadius” – Durand & Decamps (French)

Gaston Decamps participated also in the International Exhibition of 1937, creating with his friend Paul Durand, the "Professeur Arcadius" for the Pavilion of the Toy.

New Scientist 12th Apr 1962

Another modern automaton, this time a writer, is known as Professor Arcadius. He was built by M M. Durand and Decamps and can write a number of sentences programmed in the mechanism. The mechanic can alter them in advance to suit all comers; he makes a snap judgement on each of the Professor's visitors and sets up a fitting reply for the Professor to write.


Gaumont Pathe Archives have a 1937 video of Professor Arcadius at the l'Exposition Universelle des Arts et Techniques.
You have to be registered (free) and logged in to see the preview.  Search for "3744GJ 00005" without the quotes.


See other early Humanoid Robots here.

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