He’s all but forgotten today, but at one time Elektro was king of all robots. He was assembled by Westinghouse at their Mansfield, Ohio facility in 1937/38 and made his public debut at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Elektro stood at a height of seven feet, six inches and weighed 260 pounds. 60 of those pounds were his brain, which was comprised of “48 electrical relays.”
At the Westinghouse Pavilion of the World’s Fair, Elektro the Moto-Man demonstrated a wide variety of skills such as speech, counting, stand-up comedy, and of course, smoking! Witness the marvels of modern 1930s technology in this excerpt from the 1939 promotional film The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair.
“Stand aside puny human, as I enjoy the mild, refreshing tobacco flavor of Philip Morris!”
In 1940 Elektro appeared once again at the fair, this time with a robotic canine companion named Sparko. After the World’s Fair, he toured the U.S. and made a number of appearances on television and in film. This clip (from what I believe to be an episode of You Asked For It) finds Elektro in a decidedly more servile mood as he becomes the world’s most expensive helium tank.
I have to say I miss the spunk of earlier Elektro. He’s gone from cracking wise to proclaiming, “If you use me well, I can be your slave.” What a sellout.
By the 1960s Elektro had largely fallen out of public consciousness, despite a starring role as Thinko in the classic 1960 film Sex Kittens Go to College, co-starring Mamie Van Doren, John Carradine, Conway Twitty, and Tuesday Weld. Here’s a faux-racy but ultimately tame sequence involving fire extinguishers and lots of recycled footage.
As if that weren’t enough, the movies features a 10-minute sequence with Thinko checking out a series of strip tease dances while being served bourbon by a monkey bartender. Yup, you read that right. Here’s a brief clip (there’s nudity and whatnot, so this is definitely NSFW).
There’s probably nowhere to go but down after a cameo like this, and truly this was just about the end for Elektro. He stopped appearing in public and was consigned to the scrap heap. Luckily he was rescued and restored, and now spends his days quietly as a featured exhibit at the Mansfield Memorial Museum.
For those inclined to build a smoking Moto-Man of your own, here’s a cross-sectional drawing showing Elektro’s workings.
Finally, enjoy this Flickr slideshow of some neat Elektro images I’ve compiled!
- I Have Seen The Future:The New York World’s Fair of 1939…a documentary film by Lisa Seidenberg (friendsofthewestonpubliclibrary.wordpress.com)
- The World’s Fair: Historical artifact or more important than ever? (core77.com)
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