Nowadays everyone hems and haws about the uncanny valley, but we don't realize how good we have it in the 21st century. Decades ago, anthropomorphic machines and animal-like automata straddled the line between goofy and "I did not sign up for this." Here's some irrefutable proof that machines have been planning our collective demise for over a century.
1. The Smoking Monkey Automaton
In 1900, the Roullet and Decamps automata manufacturers built this beatifically glazed simian out of papier-mâché and fur. This machine doesn't strike fear into me, as I'm pretty sure we could placate any synthetic savagery with a steady supply of Penzoil-dipped pizza bagels. (BONUS: Another smoking monkey from 1880s Japan and an 1870s monkey band.)
2. The Smoking Head In The Box
When in working order, this head from 1865 has the power to smoke a pipe and wiggle its eyes. I'm fairly certain this automaton depicts the demon Señor Wences sold his soul to in exchange for sweet ventriloquism skills.
3. The 1890s Bulldog Automaton
I absolutely love how this French metal pooch's barking mechanism makes him sound like he's on the verge of regurgitating one's lost sense of innocence and whimsy.
4. This Wind-Up Leopard
Another device from 1890 by Roullet & Decamps, this partially disassembled creature brings to mind that scene in Toy Story where Woody and the gang blessed that bad kid with a lifetime of incurable bedwetting.
5. The Early 1900s Sausage Sluice
At an automata museum in La Rochelle, France, you can behold this fantastically screwed-up butcher's shop display of a man awaiting a steady stream of tubular offal. (For another gleefully fatal toy, see also Tipu's Tiger.)
6. The Clockwork Clown
If Salvador Dalí lived long enough to shill for McDonald's, I imagine his vision of a hamburger-addicted harlequin would resemble this late 1800s French contraption.
The video at left depicts a refurbished model of Japan's oldest robot, who debuted in 1928. As Cybernetic Zoo explains of his attributes:
Gakutensoku could change its facial expression via springs and gears in its head, puff its cheeks as if breathing, and move its head and hands and torso via an air pressure mechanism. It had a pen-shaped Signal arrow in its right hand and a lamp named Reikantō (霊感灯, Japanese for "inspiration light") in its left hand. Perched on top of Gakutensoku was a bird-shaped robot named Kokukyōchō (告暁鳥, Japanese for "bird informing dawn"). When Kokukyōchō cried, Gakutensoku's eyes closed and its expression became pensive. When the lamp shone, Gakutensoku started to write words with the pen. Interesting that the words were written in Chinese characters, not Japanese.
8. Laffing Sal
This chortling abomination was planted along the boardwalks, so-called funhouses and public walkways of yesteryear, destroying childhoods with clockwork efficiency. As San Francisco's Musee Mecanique explains of this Depression-era banshee:
Her bright red hair, huge towering moving figure and loud boisterous laugh are etched in the mind of every child who saw her as a child. Most were terrified of her – and many still remember that fear when they see her some 30, 40 or 50 years later [...] Laffing Sal and her partner Laffing Sam were a part of almost every funhouse across the United States built in the 1930's and 40's
And when those funhouse lights turned down, an NC-17 version of Mannequin unfolded. In an alternate dimension, Big was filmed using a wish-granting Laffing Sal, who transforms the protagonist into Ernest Borgnine. In real life, the location that was once hosted Big's Zoltan machine is now occupied by (a presumably mystical) vending machine.
9. The Cat In A Milk Can
This Roullet and Decamps piece comes from the 1950s. With its fur removed, this faux-feline could shoulder its own horror movie franchise. (As a palate cleanser, here it is with skin.)
10. The Robo-Opium Den
And to close things out with something wrong on absolutely every level, here's a display at the Musee Mecanique from the late 1800s-early 1900s depicting a bunch of racial stereotypes in the midst of opium tremens. Nothing screams "summer vacation" quite like Fu Manchu and friends convulsing on narcotics.
BONUS #1: Cleopatra, Satan, sundry mechanical animals, mechanical ducks, the CIA's robotic catfish, the Newark Steam Man, and this harpist from Heck.
BONUS #2: A visit to the House of Automata in Scotland and the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.
Via House of Automata (which has an absolute wealth of freaky old machines) and Cybernetic Zoo. Top Image via House of Automata.