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Posted By Adios Pantalones,
Oct 2, 2013 at 8:30 AM
Reminded of that desk BB posted
Had one of these at the local (rural) auction years ago. It was a nattily dressed young fellow that would whistle a tune and roll its eyes while swaying and tapping its foot in time. The auctioneer was smart enough to realize its potential value and the phone was constantly ringing with bids from other countries throughout the sale. Needless to say it didn't go to someone local, or cheap!
How about a few thousand year old robot? The Chinese were known for these devices well before 0 AD.
In ancient China, a curious account on automata is found in the Lie Zi text, written in the 3rd century BC. Within it there is a description of a much earlier encounter between King Mu of Zhou (1023-957 BC) and a mechanical engineer known as Yan Shi, an 'artificer'. The latter proudly presented the king with a life-size, human-shaped figure of his mechanical 'handiwork':
The king stared at the figure in astonishment. It walked with rapid strides, moving its head up and down, so that anyone would have taken it for a live human being. The artificer touched its chin, and it began singing, perfectly in tune. He touched its hand, and it began posturing, keeping perfect time. As the performance was drawing to an end, the robot winked its eye and made advances to the ladies in attendance, whereupon the king became incensed and would have had Yan Shih executed on the spot had not the latter, in mortal fear, instantly taken the robot to pieces to let him see what it really was. And, indeed, it turned out to be only a construction of leather, wood, glue and lacquer, variously coloured white, black, red and blue. Examining it closely, the king found all the internal organs complete—liver, gall, heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys, stomach and intestines; and over these again, muscles, bones and limbs with their joints, skin, teeth and hair, all of them artificial...The king tried the effect of taking away the heart, and found that the mouth could no longer speak; he took away the liver and the eyes could no longer see; he took away the kidneys and the legs lost their power of locomotion. The king was delighted.
Around 2600BC there was the south pointing chariot.
The South Pointing Chariot is widely regarded as one of the most complex geared mechanisms of the ancient Chinese civilization. It dates back to 2600 BC. The chariot consisted of a figure that always pointed south, regardless of the direction it was heading. It was considered to be a pioneering navigation device used by the Chinese to explore and travel through the Gobi desert. The addition of drums, which would sound with each revolution of the wheels, meant they could also measure distance.
Lots more good info at this website. Be prepared to get lost for awhile if you love this stuff.
You do have to watch out with some of the accounts from ancient China- They did some amazing stuff, and embellished a fair bit on top of that (anyone remember the rocket chair on Myth Busters? LOL)
Yes, that was funny. The south pointing chariot was well documented both by historians but also by their cartographers, local officials etc.
Used to have a fairly simplistic automaton fortune teller at Kelly's Country Store on Grand Island, NY. The place was amazing to a little kid - especially as old man Kelly used to dress up as Santa Claus at Christmas with out the aide of padding or fake beard - it became so popular that they had to expand their Christmas room. Took my children there when we got home near Christmas (his son took over the job by then).
They have "penny" candies on a long 25' counter with the glass jars along with the old cash register. The front porch and rafters were loaded with antique items - always had to look up to see what new items were added. The Christmas room had "windows" with antique toys.