1929 – “Robot #792” Mobile Remote Robot – Philip Francis Nowlan / Dick Calkins (American)


On Wednesday, July 24, 1929, a Buck Rogers cartoon strip was published depicting 'Iron Men', robots that are operated by radio control. It said that "each Robot's receiver and transmitter is permanently tuned to its own control box, and it can be controlled through no other."

The robot's eyes  included a lens for television transmission, speaker for a mouth, microphonic 'ears' for transmission of hearing to remote control operator, a swivel neck, electro-magnetic push-pull muscles in its arms, and a tractor-type base.

The control box has a television view plate, a receiver, tractor control, a microphone and a speaker.

At the time, Philip Francis Nowlan was the writer and Dick Calkins the illustrator.

It would take another 30 years before the first remote manipulator was to materialize in robots such as "The Little Ranger."

Point of Interest:

Although the word "robot" was first coined in 1920 following the publication of Karel Čapek's play "Rossum's Universal Robots", the word was used to describe "artificial humans manufactured for slave labour", made organically, not the mechanical men or automatons that we now associate a robot to in popular culture. It wasn't until the publication of the Metropolis programme handed out for the Marble Arch Pavilion premiere in London Mar 21, 1927,  that the words: Mary the "Robot", Maria the "Robot" , "Automaton", "Automaton Mary", and "Artificial Man" were attributed to "Metropolis".  This programme also compares excerpts from the book with "Scenarios" (i.e. the screenplay). So whilst the book never uses the word "Robot", the Scenarios do!  It's quite possible, then, that Fritz Lang, or the people behind the English-language programme, were the first to connect his "automaton" to that of a "robot". Capt. Alban J. Roberts started calling his mechanical man a Robot during a London stint at Maskylene's St. Georges Hall. Soon followed by Capt. Richard's Eric the Robot opening the Exhibition in September of 1928. Mostly likely both were influenced by the movie and the programme's description. I believe the media propagation of that event and subsequent showings of Eric were the beginnings that transformed the word "robot" to what we now understand it to mean, not Čapek's original meaning. "Eric the Robot" made the visual connection between the word robot and the mechanical man (or automaton) by emblazing the "RUR" lettering upon its chest.  The American "Televox" automation was anthropomorphized in October 1927, but not called a robot until later. Eric the Robot was then touring the United States and was seen by Westinghouse to be in competition with it. Interesting to note that only the media referred to "Televox" as a Robot. Westinghouse's own literature never did.

In the Buck Rogers daily strip published on December 21 of 1929 (see below), we see another robot, this time one created by the Mongols, which, as well as being called "Televox" is verbally commanded by detailed instructions, just like the real "Televox".

Certainly the Buck Rogers comic strip would have contributed to the popularization of the revised meaning of the word "Robot", but it did not start it.


Going a step further, on February 14, 1930 (below), we see individually remotely operated Robots from the Americans do battle with the Mongol's more humanoid 2-legged Robot army.



See the complete daily strip and larger images here.

See Origin of Robots here.

See other early Teleoperators here.

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