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The Reconstruction of Elektro, the World's First Celebrity Robot

New Scientist has a neat story about Elektro, arguably the first celebrity robot, and Jack Weeks, who is attempting to rebuild the golden humanoid that sat in the basement of his childhood home during WWII.

As the story goes, Elektro was first unveiled at the 1939 World's Fair, where it was considered a technological marvel of its time. The robot, which stood over eight feet tall, could walk, talk and smoke cigarettes, in addition to telling an awkward joke or two. Elektro was built by Westinghouse, but when the US entered WWII in 1942, the robot was placed in the Ohio basement of one of Westinghouse's engineers. It was here that Jack Weeks discovered his childhood friend.


After three years of random make believe adventures with his golden giant, WWII ended and Weeks found that Elektro abruptly disappeared his basement one day. Elektro had returned to performing for crowds and starring in movies. But Weeks never forgot about the robot, and decades later began collecting the head, torso and limbs in hope of rebuilding Elektro.


Here's a brief history of Elektro's storied career:

• Elektro was built by Westinghouse in 1937, and first debuted at the World's Fair in 1939. In 1940, a pet dog, Sparko, was also created as a companion.


• Elektro relied on a series of record players, photo voltaic cells, motors and telephone relays to carry out its actions. It had 26 routines it performed, and a vocabulary of 700 words. Sentences were formulated by a series of 78 RPM record players connected to relay switches.

• Elektro had no remote control, instead responding to voice commands using a telephone handset connected to its chest. The chest cavity even lit up as it recognized each word.

• In 1950, Elektro had become old news and was relegated to theme park status in Oceanside, Ca, where it was little more than a roadside gimmick.

• Elektro loved bourbon and strippers. Well, at least in the 1960 film "Sex Kittens Goes to College" where it played "Thinko, the world's greatest electronic mind," hung out with a chimp named Voltaire and became visibly aroused by aforementioned strippers (Check him out in the trailer, 30 seconds in).


• Elektro's life came to an end sometime between the '60s and the '70s, when it was returned to Westinghouse and subsequently dismantled. The head was given to the CEO as a gift, and he loved it so much, he threw it in his basement and forgot about it.


Oddly enough, Jack Weeks' brother moved into the house of the Westinghouse CEO years after the fact, where he found the abandoned head of Elektro. This began Weeks' quest to restore his friend, as he aquired the legs and torso for $500 in a very roundabout manner four years ago. However he has been unable to trackdown many of the electronic components that gave Elektro "life," as it can only move its head and arms. Weeks is now considering donating the robot to the Henry Ford Museum. For the whole story on Elektro, be sure to check it out over at [New Scientist]


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He smokes cigarettes? Why don't todays robots smoke cigarettes?!!?