In an age where we are constantly starstruck by musicians, actors, influencers, and even animals (hello, Grumpy Cat), it might surprise you to know that our celebrity radar once had its crosshairs on someone – or rather, something – a little less organic. Enter Elektro, the world’s first celebrity robot.
No, he was not featured on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” But his claim to fame is as remarkable as any Hollywood tale.
Picture this: It is 1939 and the buzz of the World’s Fair in New York is electric. Amongst the spectacle and showcase of human innovation, one exhibit stands out. A 7-foot-tall mechanical man, smoking cigarettes and casually cracking jokes, takes center stage. This was Elektro, the masterpiece of Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
But what made Elektro such a crowd-puller? At the time, robots were largely limited to fiction. Humans had not quite figured out how to convert their imaginative visions of metallic men into reality. However, Elektro changed the game. With his capability to recognize voice commands and respond with up to 700 words, he was unlike anything the world had ever seen.
From Exhibit to Stardom
Though Elektro’s voice, which sounded like a cross between a phonograph and a telephone operator, might be deemed ‘retro’ today, it was revolutionary back then. Elektro could move his arms, turn his head, and even had a sense of humor. But perhaps his most unexpected skill? Balancing a coin on its edge.
The robot was soon not just an exhibit but an entertainment unit. Nonetheless, Elektro’s stardom was not limited to the Fair. Following its success, he and his robot dog Sparko went on tours across America. From store openings to promotional events, this duo was in high demand. With each appearance, Elektro’s reputation grew. Thus, cementing his place as the world’s first celebrity robot.
Lights, Camera, Hollywood!
Hollywood, always with an eye for a star, could not ignore Elektro’s fame. In 1960, Elektro even scored a role in a movie titled “Sex Kittens Go to College.”
Although it was not a blockbuster, this role earned Elektro another badge of honor: the first robot movie star.
The Man Behind the Machine
Elektro’s glittering fame can be attributed to the genius engineers at Westinghouse, particularly to a man named Jack Weeks. He was largely responsible for bringing this marvel to life.
In an era without microprocessors and sophisticated programming languages. Thus, creating a robot that could do more than just rudimentary movements was a Herculean task. Elektro’s brain consisted of photoelectric tubes, motors, gears, and a record player. It was innovation in its purest form, and Jack Weeks was at its helm.
The Legacy of Elektro Lives On
While Elektro retired in the 1960s, his legacy persisted. He not only pioneered a public appetite for robots. But he demonstrated the merging paths of entertainment and technology. Fast-forward to today, and we see robots with advanced AI capabilities, hosting TV shows, and even acting. Elektro paved the way for the Sophias and ASIMOs of the 21st century.
Beyond fame, Elektro signified hope and a vision. During a time when the world was teetering on the brink of another World War, this robotic wonder offered a look into a future where machines could mimic humans.