Maillardet’s Automaton – A Real Life “Hugo”

January 13, 2012

If you’ve seen Hugo, the Martin Scorcese-directed adaptation of Brian Selznick’s marvelous children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you’re already familiar with the 18th century passion for automations: mechanical wonders that mimicked the behaviors of dancers, magicians, circus acrobats, fortune tellers and more. They were far more than children’s wind-up toys. These automatons were clockwork mechanisms made for royalty and the very rich that were capable of astonishing, if limited, performances.

The “Draughtsman-Writer” above was built by Henri Maillardet and is capable of reproducing four drawings (an example is below) and three poems. Click here to see videos of this amazing machine in action at the Franklin Institute.


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