Weird History
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Turns Out Humans Have Been Creating Robots For Hundreds Of Years

Updated October 14, 2018 14.7k views10 items

Forget what The Terminator taught you: History is full of robots that peacefully served humans. For hundred of years inventors have attempted to build mechanical friends that they hoped would go on to serve the planet, not take it over. Early robots served tea, smoked cigarettes, played the trumpet and even prayed. Inventors used them to recreate human interactions and find ways to automate everyday tasks. Here are the best examples of primitive robots that are definitely not destined to be humankind's future overlords.

  • A Pants-Wearing German Robot Played The Trumpet In 1810

    A Pants-Wearing German Robot Played The Trumpet In 1810
    Photo: / via Pinterest

    Musical instrument inventor Friedrich Kaufmann created many unusual things in his career. In 1806, for example, he created the Belloneon, an instrument comprised of twenty-four trumpets and two kettle drums. In 1810, he built the Harmonichord, reasoning that two great instruments, the piano and violin, would be better fused into one instrument.

    That same year, Kaufmann also debuted a singular invention: a mechanical trumpet player made with leather bellows for lungs and reeds meant to mimic the sound of an actual trumpet. Dressed in a the dapper outfit of a Spanish soldier, the trumpet-bot even "performed" at Buckingham Palace in 1851.

  • Elektro The Moto-Man Smoked Cigarettes In 1939

    Elektro The Moto-Man Smoked Cigarettes In 1939
    Photo: Daderot / via Wikimedia / Public Domain

    The seven-foot-tall, 265-pound Elektro the Moto-Man was built by Westinghouse for the 1939 New York World's Fair. The golden Elektro could move its head and arms, walk, speak 700 words, blow up balloons, and most impressively, smoke cigarettes. The robot was a hit: Elektro reappeared at the 1940 World's Fair, this time accompanied by a mechanical dog named Sparko. Elektro even costarred in the 1960 movie Sex Kittens Go to College.

    Elektro waned in popularity in the decades after the fairs, and the robot was eventually dismantled. It was later rediscovered by the son of a Westinghouse employee, and is now on display at the Mansfield Memorial Museum.

  • Tipu's Tiger Has Been Eating The Same Soldier Since 1795

    Tipu's Tiger Has Been Eating The Same Soldier Since 1795
    Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum / via Wikimedia / CC BY SA 3.0

    Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in South India, really hated the British. He hated them so much, in fact, that in 1782 he commissioned a wooden robot tiger capable of mauling a wooden robot Brit.

    The resulting device is still mauling that robot today. By turning a crank on the side of the tiger, the man's arm moves up and down, and an inner pipe organ creates a sound meant to imitate the soldier's moans of pain. The British had the last laugh, though: Tipu's Tiger is now a big draw at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

  • A Japanese Robot From The 1920s Had Its Own Pet Bird

    A Japanese Robot From The 1920s Had Its Own Pet Bird
    Photo: Osaka Mainichi-shinbun / via Wikimedia / Public Domain

    In 1929, biologist Makoto Nishimura created Japan's first official robot. Gakutensoku (the name means "learning from natural law") could write, close its eyes, and move its head and hands via air pressure. It also had a bird-shaped pet robot named Kokukyōchō. When the bird cried, Gakutensoku closed its eyes and looked pensive.

    Gakutensoku and its bird were lost in Germany in the 1930s, but a replica is on display at the Osaka Science Museum.