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( Article orginally published April 1942 by Hobbies )
Machines in the form of humans which performed human-like work and actions long fascinated the early engineers, watch and clockmakers of Europe, so much so that after their regular work was accomplished they used their skill to devise and invent machines in human form which were amazing to the people of their times.
They made self-moving machines (automatons) in human form (androids) which played musical instruments such as the harmonium, the harpsichord, the flute and the drum. One famous android was made in the form of a child seated in a chair who "wrote by hand." Still another was made which drew pictures. Other androids were made to walk like soldiers or old ladies. Still others smoked and imitated human habits.
A list of the men who devised these mechanical wonders would be a long one but these were the eminent mechanicians who have been remembered for their famous androids:Jacques de Vaucanson, Paris, 1709-1782;
Pierre Jaquet-Droz, Paris, 1721-1790;
Henri Louis Jaquet-Drox, 1752-1791;
James Cox, London, 1760-1788;
Jean David Maillardet, Chaux-deFonds, 1748-1834;
Julien Auguste Maillardet, Chauxde-Fonds, 1779-1852;
Jean Frederic Leschot, Geneva, 1746-1825;
Robert Houdin, Paris, 1800-1858.
In the United States, and in more recent times, a professional man devised a zither-playing android which he called "Isis."
Isis is life-size, carved of poplar wood, then hollowed out sufficiently to contain part of her mechanism. The rest of her mechanism is contained in the cabinet below. The cabinet is of mahogany with Egyptian hieroglyphics carved on all sides. A leopard-skin, sistrum and other authentic Egyptian objects are added to heighten the effect.
In the chest of the android is a small window behind which is housed delicate mechanism. Another small window in the small of the android's back protects, but permits a view of more fine mechanism.
To the onlooker Isis apparently responds to the command of a human voice, or to the proper tone of the piano, and plays any one of 63 familiar compositions on the zither. However, the tune is selected by a compass operated by the maker. In response, the android starts playing the zither. Both hands pluck the strings, the right carrying the melody while the left accompanies with the chords. The pick on the android's right thumb plucks a single, tremulous string at a time. Being pivoted, the pick is drawn down by an armature to one side of the zither-string to be played, and the horizontal motion of the arm, back and forth, plucks the string. Automatically released, the pick jumps up, above the wire, and the arm moves into position for twanging the next note. The left arm works in the same way, but sweeps a complete chord before being released for playing a different one. The mechanical picks are drawn into action by electro-magnets and the motion of the arms is supplied by a large springmotor.
Isis plays simple melodies such as "The Barcarolle," "Home on the Range," "Hearts and Flowers," "The Heart Bowed Down," and many others of like nature reasonably well. It plays too slowly to accommodate the quick time of marches. In addition, Isis removes her long face-veil as soon as the room temperature grows too warm. This is done, in response to the action of a mercury thermostat, by a single motion of her right arm. As the temperature of the room rises, the mercury in the column rises; at a certain height, the mercury comes in contact with platinum wire which acts upon armature electrically. This releases a spring beneath her arm and attached to her veil which is jerked off.
Many of the early androids of Europe were so marvelous that they were placed in museums in Spain, Switzerland and France. They wen so wonderful for their time that Kings of different countries collected them as a hobby and conferred royal favors on the famous mechanicians who made them.