Maillardet's Automaton

Photo of Automaton

In November of 1928, a truck pulled up to The Franklin Institute science museum in Philadelphia and unloaded the pieces of an interesting, complex, but totally ruined brass machine. Donated by the estate of John Penn Brock, a wealthy Philadelphian, the machine was studied and the museum began to realize the treasure it had been given.

This Automaton, known as the "Draughtsman-Writer" was built by Henri Maillardet, a Swiss mechanician of the 18th century who worked in London producing clocks and other mechanisms. It is believed that Maillardet built this extraordinary Automaton around 1800 and it has the largest "memory" of any such machine ever constructed—four drawings and three poems (two in French and one in English).

Automata, such as Maillardet's Automaton, demonstrated mankind's efforts to imitate life by mechanical means—and are fascinating examples of the intersection of art and science.