Ancient and early 20th century Robots

Automatic Man

A walking automaton has been invented by Louis Philip Perew of Tonawanda, which eclipses, so far as known, any other similar invention ever made. Of heroic proportions this mechanical wonder is shaped in very way like a man. Not only can it walk but it's eyes roll, it's head turns and all it's joints move naturally.
  • It can even talk. To test the powers of the giant fully, it is proposed to walk him across the continent accompanied by only two human companions. It is expected that other and similar walking men will be made and toured through the country in order to advertise the Pan-American Exposition. A man that walks is a common sight. A dead man that walks is occasionally beheld by sailors on a Saturday Night. But a man that walks long distance that never was alive is something so unheard of that it is hard to believe that such a one could exist. But exist it does, and walk it can, as any doubters will soon be able to see. For nine years Louis Philip Perew labored with his body and his brain at a huge undertaking. Now the work is finished and he has a graven image made of wood and metal, in the likeness of a man. And it walks!
  • Seven feet five inches high, of excellent proportions, this mechanical man is to every appearance a human being. He is well formed, of heroic stature, and has a dignified military carriage. He has the quick step of the perfect heel and toe walker. His features are of the typical American and so natural that one would imagine them of natural flesh instead of aluminum. He is dressed in the height of fashion in a white duck outing suit and cap of the latest shape.
  • Eyes of perfect blue roll in the head and gaze upon those who surround him, putting a feeling in the awed spectator that half convinces him that the automation is something more than a mechanical construction. Such is the giant soulless man that has been made in Tonawanda, and that will walk, it is expected, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
  • It was in 1891 that Louis Perew struck upon the idea of a walking giant. For weeks and months he worked diligently. At last he had a figure carved out of wood, three feet high, attached to a cart. When placed on a smooth surface, and provided that someone pushed the cart, the wooden figure would walk as though pulling the entire rig himself.
  • Tonawanda men thought they saw much money in the building of an even larger automaton, purchased a share in the idea and had it patented. A large figure was built and attached to an immense and very heavy vehicle. A man was put inside the rig to propel it by hand, and exhibitions were given about the streets of the village. It's leg motions, although patterned after mankind's, was still crude. There was a quiver and a jerk as the legs came forward that was not natural. The inventors moneyed friends became less enthusiastic, and in the end let the automation project drop. In 1899, Charles A. Thomas of Cleveland, Ohio ran across the old automation and became interested in it's development. Under Thomas's backing the U.S. Automaton Co. was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York. Money was at once spent in lavish sums in the purchase of the very best material; the service of able mechanical engineers were secured and inventor Perew was given a free hand in the construction of his automaton.
  • Continue reading here
But some "hoaxes" can be more elaborate than others, and then you start questioning the "hoaxness" of the issue. The below "Electric Man"patent is not directly related to the above, "Automatic Man". They sure do look similar.

Electric Man



Newark Steam Man
In 1868, Zadoc Dederick of Newark, New Jersey built a robotic man wearing a top hat to pull carriages. His creation became known as "the Newark Steam Man," and its inventor hoped to build an army of steampunkish carriage drivers.


Here's a description of the Steam Man from the January 23, 1868 edition of The Newark Observer.

Newark Steam Man_1.jpg

What I find interesting about this 1868 Newark Steam Man, is the fact that it was invented simultaneously with the 1868 publishing of The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis. This science fiction robot presented in the novel co-existing with the actual model is bizarre, in my opinion.

Steam King Robot


A photograph of a steam-powered robot pulling a wagon. The photo was registered in 1869 in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The court’s clerk pasted the photo into the copyright record book.


Occultus - Barbarossa
The October 7 1911 issue of "The Pathfinder" Newspaper News Magazine had in the scientific section, a weird photo and article on an automaton / robot named "Occultus" recently exhibited in Berlin by a man named Whitman. The author of the article displaying the below two images thinks that these Barbarossa robots were fake.

Here is the opinion of the author:
  • In my opinion all the mechanism is there only for show, with the wheels and dials clearly placed to impress the viewer.Furthermore note the robot stands just in front of a screen. I would guess that the robots head was really the head of an actor/accomplice, pushed through a hole in the screen with the screen edges disguised by the hair and the beard. The forearms could have been raised and lowered by the accomplice using the two ropes attached to the forearms and going over the shoulders.

Maschinenmensch Robot
And then, of course, we have our Metropolis Movie robot called "Maschinenmensch". Though some props and costumes from Metropolis did survive, the iconic Maschinenmensch apparently was destroyed during filming, although its actual fate is unknown. Replicas of the robot are found in many museums, notably in the Berlin Filmmuseum, The Cinématheque Francaise in Paris, and the Museum of the Moving Image in London. Oddly enough, almost all versions are silver rather than the original golden-bronze colour.

Links and Sources:

KD: anyways, what's your opinion on this entire robot thing. It appears the topic was extremely popular between approximately 1890 and 1910. Could there be something we are missing on the entire issue?


Jan 18, 2021
Reaction score

Giovanni Fontana Giovanni Fontana (engineer) - Wikipedia (ca. 1395 - ca. 1455) 15th century Venetian physician and engineer known as the magician, attended the University of Padua, where he received his studies in Arts in 1418 and in Medicine in 1421.
Fontana is one of the first inventors to have preserved written works and, in particular, a book of machine drawings known under the name "Bellicorum instrumentorum Liber, cum figuris et fictitys litoris conscriptus" whose only copy is kept in the Munich Library. The book includes 70 pages with more than 140 illustrations accompanied by short notes, usually the first sentence in Latin, but the sequel is encrypted.

His interest is not exclusively military, he also mentions water sources and the principle of the trap that is used several times in all engineering books of the 15th century. Continuing with the Greek and Arabic tradition, he works on developing automata.


Viztlipuztli was generally presented as a minor Image, called Tlaboc (TLALOC?)
Last edited:
  • A Avatar

  • Similar articles