The Story of
the Automaton


Putting It In Motion...

For Teachers


For Students

For Reference

Automata from coo-coo clocks to computers have throughout the years held a fascination for just about everybody.

We find animated statutes in ancient China and in the temples of classical Greece. In Europe, the clockmakers of the Renaissance often adorned their works with marvelous moving figures.

The Franklin Institute's mechanical lady dressed in green is one of the most important of the small number of androids that have ever been built with the ability to write and draw.** The tradition of machines capable of actual writing and drawing seems to have gotten its start in Germany in the mid-seventeenth century with Friedrich von Knauss who in the course of his career produced four writing automata.
(See "A Gallery of Automata" for photos and descriptions of various historical automata.)

The most prolific and gifted of the writing machine makers was a Frenchman, Pierre Jacquet-Droz, who in company with a succession of collaborators built a series of machines from 1774 on.

The mechanized dolls who could write were curiosities which attracted the interest of royalty as well as the common people. In addition to being spectacular showpieces, automata made impressive state gifts and were occasionally sold for this purpose.

   

 


Excerpts taken from "Maillardet's Automaton," and "Philadelphia's 179 Year Old Android" by Charles Penniman, The Franklin Institute Science Museum.

**The "Green Lady" Penniman refers to in his article is the same doll now on view at the Franklin Institute, once again dressed in masculine clothing.