JF Ptak Science Books Post 1909
[Image source: Popular Mechanics, September 1936, page 400.]
Robots, or mechanical beings, or mechanized forms of humanity or from the animal kingdom have been around in popular literature for many decades by the time this giant robot appeared in Texas in 19361. (The idea is old though the name "robot" didn't appear until Karel Capek invented it for his book on the future called R.U.R in 1920. Actually the human-like forms created by Capek in this early scifi work were biotech, and not fully mechanized.) The form of the robot stretches back hundreds of years, in a way--if not the exactly the idea of a robot, but at least with the appearance of one.
Such is the case with Albrecht Durer's (1471-1528) revolutionary drawing of a geometrical man, compartmentalizing the bodyd into distinct chunks--these and other woodcuts appeared in his Symmetria partium…humanorum corporum and must have been an amazing, startling site for the new reader to such things in 1537.To me this looks like visionary thinking in trying to understand the motions of living beings with no actual way of capturing the image in motion.
[This and many other images from the fabulous Bibliodyssey website, here.]
All of which are retro-reminiscent of early robots, like this from The Fantast in 1939:
[Image source: the wonderful Cybernetic Zoo website, with loads of images and timelines, here.]
Seven years late in Nuremberg Erhard Schoen published Unnderweissung der proportzion unnd stellung der possen, liegent und stehent..., which followed Durer showing that the human form was reducible to connected but discrete Euclidean solids:
I have very little doubt that the imagery of human forms seen in the works of Durer and Schoen (set just a few years apart) were a shock to the casual observer, that the human form could be reduced to such elemental geometry. They certainly don't anticipate the appearance of robots/mechanized life forms, but the images sure do appear that way.
No doubt that minds were sent reeling by
Fritz Lang’s vision of the near-future (the year 2000) in his 1927
science fiction classic, Metropolis.
Life and work were one for the vast mass of humans, the drudgery of a
cog-like existence in a vast underground machinery set to run a lifeless
topside mother-of-all-cities was pressed and punched into the hearts
and minds of the viewers.
The creation of a female robot in this movie is one of the earliest that I know of, surprising as there were male robot-like creations going back fairly deeply into the 19th century. Perhaps the creation of female robots was verbotten because of the possibilities for unacceptable sexual fantasies in the high- and post-Victorian world, struggling under the weight of many and multiply-applied inhibitions.
Or perhaps it came too close to some part of the truth of women as captives of their society, with unequal protection of the law, scant political representation, belligerent educational policies, and subjugated sexual vessels, a comparative cog in the male machinery pushing the world around. The disposable nature of the woman worker had already been manifestly and callously displayed in tens of thousands of instances. In cases like the Triangle Waistcoat Factory disaster–in which women were treated no better than their machines, costing the lives of hundreds in a devastating fire–or in the replacement of Rosie the Riveter (as soon as the job-hunting soldiers returned from WWII), and on and on towards the horizon, it has been demonstrated to generations of women that they are inferior bits of apparatus.
The first use of the word “robot” occurred in the science fiction novel/play R.U.R (by Karel Capek) just seven years earlier than Lang’s film; perhaps this in combination with the Expressionist and semi-decadent Berlin Weimar culture and overall indulgences of the 1920's helped create the possibility of the Eden-less woman-as-robot. Granted the robot's name wasn't "Eve", though it does have the name of the Christian mother of mothers, the seat of early hyper worship, and more popular than Jesus' name for centuries: "Maria".
1. Another view of the same 1936 Texas robot:
Another robot-image appeared in conjunction with an auto manufacturer there in Texas, though this time the artifical man was a marionette.