Monday, June 11, 2012

My brain is bigger than yours.

This time my Internet digging has led me to the first robot celebrity of the 1930s. Meet Elektro :

photos via Retronaut

I actually got interested in a song by Meat Beat Manifesto called Original Control,Version 2 ( don't ask why ) and I wanted to find out where those "I am Elektro" and "My brain is bigger than yours" samples come from. This led me to the story about Elektro.

I Am Electro by Meat Beat Manifesto on Grooveshark

So, Elektro was a robot built by Westinghouse Electric Corporation which was a manufacturer of clothing irons and ovens. What fascinates me is the fact that this company had such a marvelous strategy for promoting itself. They've financed Elektro's production and then showed him off at the New York World's Fair in 1939. where the robot would amuse the crowd with its skills during a 20 minute show every hour. And he was a huge hit ! The crowd loved him.

Elektro's skills included walking, moving his arms and fingers, recognizing colors, making lame jokes, blowing balloons and also smoking cigars. He was made to be a "cool" party robot.
During the 50s he went on a tour, becoming one of the icons of popular culture at that time. And then , in the late 60s he was completely forgotten. He ended up in one of engineer's basement. Years and years later, the engineer's son discovered the robot , resembled and cleaned it so Elektro is now safe in Mansfield Memorial Museum. 
But what hit me today while reading all this was the fact that four years ago, when I was visiting The Atomium in Brussels, I wasn't even aware of the fact that I shook hands with a celebrity.

Yes, there he is, Elektro himself ( well actually his replica but that's irrelevant for this story ! ). And there I am, holding his hand, at that time completely unaware of the story about this robot. He was a part of a huge display in The Atomium which celebrated the history of World's Fairs. To me, in that moment, he was a cool vintage robot which I had to touch but now that I know the story behind Elektro, I can fully appreciate the captured moment. 

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