Posts Tagged ‘Eric’

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].


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



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

 Above and  next two Images courtesy Brian Precious (UK)



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


Mister Robot

Robert Robot, Created By William Richards 




1952 and now called Robert

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  

 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!] 

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






Video Clips

I have located 2 clips.



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



[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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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. 



 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.

 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.

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

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.

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






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.




 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

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.


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.

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).


Dangerous Robot!

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

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 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 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.

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. 


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.

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

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

"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. 

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.


1928 – Eric Robot – Capt. Richards & A.H. Reffell (English)

Each press article of the day offered a different snippet about Captain William H. Richards’ Eric Robot.  I will summerise them here.

Eric Robot was constructed at Gomshall, near Dorking [see note below], by Captain William H. Richards, a veteran of the First World War, and a noted journalist and A. H. Reffell, a motor engineer.  What caused its invention was the need of an important person to take the place of the Duke of York in opening the Exhibition of the Society of Model Engineers, in London. As Richards  was secretary of the organization, he decided to make a Robot who could open the exhibition. On 20th September 1928  at the at the Royal Horticultural Hall, Eric arose, bowed, looked to the right, to the left, and, with appropriate gestures, proceeded to give a four minute  opening address .   His exterior was of aluminium, not unlike a mediaeval knight in armour. His eyes are white bulbs with red pupils painted on them. The use of 35,000 volts of electricity causes blue sparks to emanate from his teeth.

His feet are fastened to a box, in which there is a twelve-volt electric motor. Inside his body there is another motor, eleven electro-magnets, and about three miles of wire. He can move his arms and his head just as any real man does when speaking.

It appears that Richards deployed two methods of control. One was the use of remote wireless where a hidden person was able to answer the questions asked. One of the articles suggested the technology was used under licence from Marconi patents. Richards says Eric cannot think so he had between 50-60 questions pre-prepared, otherwise the anser was ‘”I do not know, sir (or madam)” , getting the gender correct further giving away the fact that a hidden person was providing the answers. The second method was the direct control of Eric’s movements using voice control by uterring numbers which made a certain rate of vibration on a wire inside the man to the corresponding number to trigger a circuit.

Richards later explored the idea of giving Eric selenium cell “eyes” so that he would see infra-red light and also to differentiate colours. 

Note: 7 Aug 2010: A Reffell relative has contacted me to say that the place of Eric’s manufacture was in fact Gomshall, not Comshall as stated, where the Reffell family had a small motor business. The company later manufactured a turning lathe of rather archaic design. Reffell’s full name was Alan Herbert Reffell (1875 – 1979) and was an aircraft mechanic during the First World War.

Pic above show Eric giving his inaugural opening address at the Model Engineering Exhibition of 1928.

Illustrated London News 1928

There has just been completed at Gomshall, near Dorking, the first British Robot, a gleaning thing of aluminium, not unlike a mediaeval knight in armour. whose first duty  will be to open a Model Engineering Exhibition today at the at the Royal Horticultural Hall. Concealed in the body is an electric motor which drives a fibre roller. Just above are several electro-magnets, with steel springs. To the base of these springs are fixed pulleys carrying cables that operate levers which move the Robot’s arms and head. When the electro-magnets are energised the springs are drawn to the magnets pulling the edges of the pulleys against the revolving fibre roller. The pulleys revolve, winding in the cable moving the head or limbs as desired. By cutting off current the wheel-face is detached from the roller, and the arm falls back to its normal position. For raising the Robot from its seat, causing it to bow to the audience and resume its seat, another motor is concealed in the platform below the figure’s feet, This operates large pulley wheels concealed in the knees, When these wheels are slowly turned, a lever attached to each raises or lowers the man as required, Three contacts on the pulley give the desired positions In the operator, A second lever tilts the body and gives the ” bowing ” movement, To ease the work of the motor, counterweights in the legs balance the weight of the body and interior mechanism, An ingenious electrical gear (which is the jealously guarded secret of the inventors) enables the Robot to hear questions and answer in a human voice, The Robot has been designed and made in under six months, so that it is but an infant and not yet able to walk, but the inventors state that in time it will be able to use its legs.  At present, however, its chief work will be in the realms of publicity.


English engineer brings devices resembling armored knight to United States.
A great sensation was caused recently in New York by a marvelous mechanical creation vaguely resembling a Knight of the Round Table in full armor, speaking with a voice of a man and so arranged mechanically as to rise, sit and move his arms and legs. It Is Eric Robot, with electric eyes and eerie appearance who will shortly visit Uniontown.
The metal giant, according to Mr. Cuppett. the Uniontown Exide dealer, is the offspring of the genius of Captain W. H. Richards, a noted engineer of England, and was born just a few months ago at the Model Engineers Exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Hall, London.
It had the honor of making the first speech in opening the exhibition and its success was such that London parents no longer frighten their disobedient children with talk of the “bogey-man.” It Is “Eric. the Robot” who persuades the children into a regular and efficient performance of their chores.
Captain Richards describes the automaton as a creature weighing approximately one hundred and forty pounds or the weight of an average man, and is made of aluminum. It is more than a set of boxes with intricate electrical devices for in appearance it resembles a Knight of the days of King Arthur.
The electrical energy for operating Eric Robot is provided by six standard six-volt Exide batteries similar to those used on automobiles.
There are also three sets of 48-volt Exide batteries for other parts of the ingenious mechanism and upon these constant and dependable sources of electrical energy, the interesting invention depends for its operation and control.
A. H. Refell, chief engineer in charge of the Robot, states, “We have always used Exide batteries and consider them to be most reliable and eminently suitable for our work.”
Jules Verne who 50 years ago wrote of marvelous mechanical wonders could not himself have believed a mechanical man such as Eric Robot a practical possibility.
The underlying principles which operate the device could easily be incorporated according to Captain Richards, into other mechanisms to further relieve man from some of the laborious work that he may be required to do in the future.

Eric’s “eye” getting oiled.

Chronicle Telegram 26 Nov 1928 p14

Mechanical Man Mounts Platform and Delivers Speech
LONDON’. — Great Britain’s newest “Robot” who recently amazed Londoners by walking across Trafalgar Square during the height of mid-day traffic [not Richard’s Eric, but A.J. Robert’s automaton-RH], has now registered a second sensation in opening the Exhibition of Model Engineering at Horticultural Hall by rising from a chair, mounting the speaker’s platform and delivering a carefully prepared speech. Then he bowed, walked back to his chair and sat down again. The newest mechanical man is the creation of Captain W. H. Richards and A. H. Reffell, a motor engineer, and represents a tremendous advance over any Robot that has so far been seen in England. To anyone who asks, he will tell the correct time; he will get up or sit down in obedience to the human voice, and if in the midst of a speech anyone anyone says sharply to him, “Shut up” – he shuts! The only serious work that his inventors have yet been able to get out of him is to make him drill holes either in wood or metal.
“The trouble is that up to the present time it needs two men to see that he does his work,” said Captain Richards in describing his creation. “Thus as an economic factor it can’t be said that he is paying his way. However, only the future can really reveal what, with adaptions and improvements, the mechanical man may be capable of. The man as he stands is made almost entirely of metal and resembles more than anything else a medieval knight of armour.
His feet are fastened to a box, in which there is a twelve-volt electric motor. Inside his body there is another motor, eleven electro-magnets, and about three miles of wire. He can move his arms and his head just as any real man does when speaking. When given the right word of command he will go through any of his movements.”
As to the secrets of the Robot’s construction. Captain Richards was not so communicative. “All I can say,” said he, “is that in constructing the ‘man’ we have used the most advanced methods of radio-control. We are working under a license of the Marconi company and are using some of their patents. I can assure you, however, that his speech is produced neither by phonograph record or talking film.”

Evening Tribune 29 Jan 1929 p3

“Eric Robert,” the 6-foot, 140-pound mechanical man, has come to America, and was exhibited in New York, by Captain William H. Richards, his creator. Here is the account by the  New York Times:
Eric not only talked but he made jokes to prove that Englishmen, even robots, have a sense of humor; stood up, flashed his electric eyes and blue-flame teeth, winked, answered question, flourished his aluminum arms and took many bows. He also, at his master’s command or at questions from the audience, gave the correct time whenever that was wanted.
Captain Richards explained that Eric was made of aluminum, copper, steel, wires and dynamos, and moved by electricity. He said while Eric, whom he created nine months ago, required only 12 volts to move, he needed 35,000 volts to speak. How he speaks and how he moves remained a mystery which the captain refused to reveal.
He denied that Eric is manipulated, either in his sonorous, somewhat metallic speaking or in his movements, by anything outside his interior. The audience verified this assertion by surrounding Eric, shaking his hand and opening a door in his back to make sure no one was concealed within him. No one was seen backstage who could have had anything to do with him, and he rambled on, answering numerous questions, quite at ease while he was being investigated.
“He responds,” said Captain Richards, “soley to the sound of my voice. He can answer hundreds* of questions, but, of course, not all that are asked him as he has not yet learned to think.”
Following Captain Richard’s speech telling Eric’s history and capabilities and his hopes that he would some day learn to walk, Eric arose, bowed, flashed his eyes and mouth and began:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am Eric the robot, the man without a soul. It gives me great pleasure to be here with you in New York.” He proceeded to murmur such things as “I am impressed by your tall buildings and compressed by your subways” and “the more I think of prohibition, the less 1 think of it.”
Eric expressed the wish that his inventor would create a blonde female robot, as he would like to essay companionate marriage, and then discoursed on flappers, Wall street and current topics of the day. Children then filed on the stage, asking him questions, most of which were answered.
Again and again he told his age—nine months, counted to ten. told the time and often he answered “I do not know, sir,” or “madam.”
Finally the entire audience examined him and the show was over. Eric in appearance resembles a saturnine Sir Galahad, as he is entirely covered with what resembles armor. He is large and ponderous in movement, but his voice is distinct and his syllables clear. He is never offended, never hasty and, apparently, never ill at ease.
Eric will tour the country for several months and then seek continental fields to vanquish. “I don’t know what his future will be or what that of his race will be,” said Captain Richards after the performance, “but of course it will advance. He will be outmoded sometime, of course.”
Eric didn’t speak, didn’t move, for his owner had pressed a little button a moment before. The only time he had touched him, and he was no longer a talking, moving robot. He was simply a piece of inanimate metal, or perhaps he was sleeping.

The Crimson -Published On Monday, February 25, 1929

“The making of a mechanical man, a Robot, has intrigued the minds of men for centuries, but only now, in the twentieth century, has man stopped merely talking of it and actually constructed a talking, moving, automaton,” said Captain W. H. Richards, the famous inventor, to a representative of the CRIMSON in a recent interview.

Captain Richards, a veteran of the World War, and a noted journalist, told how he came to invent the Robot. “What really caused its invention,” he said, “was the need of an important person, to take the place of the Duke of York, in opening the Exhibition of the Society of Model Engineers, in London. Since I was secretary of the organization, I decided to make a Robot who could open the exhibition. After many disappointments, it was perfected and amid much excitement, the mechanical man made his debut.”

He arose, bowed to awed spectators, looked to the right, to the left, and, with appropriate gestures, proceeded to give a four minute address.”

The Robot moves with human-like movements, talks distinctly and is built in the semblance of a six-foot man. The most remarkable thing about this automaton, is his ability to answer any question within reason. Captain Richards explained that each question had a key number, such as 74, the sound waves of the seven and four combined making a certain rate of vibration on a wire inside the man, which vibrations cause him to give the correct answer.

A great many uses are predicted for the Robot, for example: acting as information clerk at a railroad station, answering the telephone or telling absolutely accurate time. It has already broadcasted over the radio and, by next year, it will be able to sing.

When asked if the mechanical man could walk, Captain Richards stated that without a sense of balance, nothing, on two legs, could walk. At the suggestion of a gyroscope, he said, that the necessary mechanism would weigh far too much and that it would fall at the least irregularity of the path.

The inventor plans to develop his brain-child, by the use of a photo electric cell, and hopes to make it differentiate colors, in the near future. 

(The Strand – 1929)

Mr. Eric Robot, the perfect man who does just what he’s told and nothing else.  A.H. Refell [sic], British scientist, who invented Robot, the Mechanical Man, brought him over. “Eric Robot,” the man without a soul, is shown here being greeted by Mrs. Jane Houston in the lounge of a New York hotel.

Hamilton Daily News 04 Feb 1929

A New Robot in Town.
Let us learn a moral lesson from a robot.
Capt. William H. Richards landed in New York with a new mechanical man. It did much the same things that other mechanical men have done. There is no particular novelty now in mechanical men. Maybe it did them better, maybe not. No difference. Capt. Richards thinks his prodigy is in advance of all other mechanical men.
Every hen thinks her goose is a swan!
The interesting thing is that Richards never had a day’s technical schooling in his life. Any sort of mechanical man is puzzling enough to the onlooker, but his man is especially puzzling. When he speaks to it, it responds. When he tells it to sit down, it sits.
“How did you do it?” he was asked.
Richards had never thought about it before. As a boy he had been interested in mechanics, even to the extent of making a steam-engine out of a tea-caddy, which was so good a steam-engine that it finally blew up.
Mechanical engineering had been his fad.
“Of course, I had to make my living.”
He worked at many occupations. He was reporter and soldier and chauffeur and man of various work.
Always good enough to hold his job and gain promotion and save a little money. Engineering was his fad, just as photography and duck-farming and flying and painting is your fad and mine. He made time in which to study engineering.
“I kept out of pool-rooms.”
There’s the answer to the query:
How shall I win success?” Two answers, maybe.
Keep out of pool-rooms. Use your time worthily.
Have a fad. A fad keeps your soul alive. Dull, constant work would deaden it. Do not forget to play, of course. Play is as necessary as calomel was in the old-fashioned medical-chest. But do not spend all the time you can spare, from work in play. Have a fad.
Stay away from the pool-rooms.

The Tech No.9 1929

……When the Duke of York could not appear to open the meeting, the Captain thought it would be a good idea to make a “man”. He had five months in which to work on his robot. “Eric” was completed in time and opened the meeting with a four minute address.
The voice of the automaton is the most remarkable feature in its make-up and a secret jeolously guarded by its inventor. It is a baritone and recalls one of the voices heard in the “talkies”. The robot will answer correctly any question asked from a list of fifty or sixty prepared by Captain Richards.

Zanesville Signal 05 Jan 1929 p1

English Invention Is Modern Youth in Everything But American “Petting”
New York, Jan. 6—

“Mr. Robot, do you drink or smoke?”
“I do not.”
“Run around nights?”
“Certainly not.”
“Married or single?”
Girls, what a man! Almost perfect.
He has practically all the qualifications of it good husband.
Now, don’t crowd and we’ll give you the real low down on him.
He has Just arrived from England and is registered at the swanky Lincoln hotel where he was the object today of admiring glances from the fair sex. You may see later, for he is planning a tour of America. He Is six feet tall, weighs 140 pounds and looks like a knight. He can sing splendidly and how he can talk! He’s just about what the doctor ordered except for one thing—he isn’t human.
“He’s a mechanical man.
Captain W. H. Richards, engineer, soldier and journalist, who built him, has him in tow. This mechanical wonder talks, rises and sits down, and performs various simple operations.
Some day, in the opinion of Captain Richards, the robot will be able to do many of the chores and less intricate labor now done by low-wage workers.
The mechanical man created a sensation in England several months ago at the Model Engineer’s exhibition in London. The Duke of York was unable to attend, so the robot opened the meeting.
“Ladies and gentleman, unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, it affords me great pleasure to address you,” said the mechanical marvel in his polished, monotonous voice, Are his speeches extemporaneous?”
Captain Richards was1 asked by International News Service.
“No, he is like many of your American speakers. His addresses are prepared in advance.”

As a fillbusterer in the United States senate Eric Robot would be a smashing success, Captain Richards admitted. He can talk for hours and he pays no attention to heckling.
“Ask him the time and he’ll tell you exactly—Western Union time within thirty seconds of what the clock says,” Richards declared.
The robot of the future will be used for many purposes, the captain said. He could, for example, be adapted for the job of a night watchman. He could shout to the police over the telephone. He has stood up to a bench and operated a manual drill so he could be used to turn out repetition work.
Since he is a good singer, four robots, obviously, would make a quartet. For proper harmony all that would be necessary would be to make one a bass, another a tenor, and so on.
“He would make a formidable burglar trap,” the inventor remarked “In time he will be of real practical use to industry. Now I’m merely putting him to work for exhibition purposes on our tour.”
The mechanical marvel is operated by electrical equipment. He does only what be is told to do.
He rises, signals and sits down by means of an electric motor, electro-magneto, pulleys and levers.
His exterior is of shining aluminum. His eyes are white bulbs with red pupils painted on them. The use of 35,000 volts of electricity causes blue sparks to emanate from his teeth. This heightens his sepulchral appearance.
“I hope eventually to give him eyes that will see.” said the inventor.
I am adapting the selenium cell to the robot in the hope of accomplishing light and used in conjunction with the ultra-red ray. This may enable the robot to get photographic impressions.

Then he’ll almost be a real man.”
Eric Robot, you see, is gradually coming to life.


ITNSource / Reuters have some film footage of the opening speech, but unfortunately there is no preview available.

Modern Mechanix, Jan 1929

In 2002 a replica of Eric was built in Japan for an exhibition titled (in English): The Asahi Shimbun, Culture and Sports Business Exhibition “Miracle of Astro Boy”.

In good company with replica robot from Metropolis…

… and replica Televox (in studio being assembled) ….

… and finally on show with Televox.

Capt. Richards did build a more improved robot called “George”. See here for more details.