Robots in silent cinema

mastermystery02This interesting article mentions my work, and it focuses on some of the funniest robots and automata of early and silent film. Titled “The Bumbling Robots and Awkward Automatons of Silent Cinema,” this piece by Allison Meier gives some hilarious examples, from The Automatic Motorist (1911), to L’Uomo Meccanico (1921), and Houdini’s The Master Mystery (1919).

Houdini’s early films and serials have recently become available on DVD and so we have the opportunity to see this work. Another essay by Richard Kaufman describes this as “the first robot in movie history,” but I think we may still find surprising weird machines in early cinema. The era was obsessed with machinery, and roughly mechanical or metal looking characters were becoming familiar even before the word “robot” arrived to describe them. Edison had created a talking doll in 1890, and L. Frank Baum’s mechanical woodsman in The Wizard of Oz novels is also a precursor to the look of robots

Read Allison Meier, “The Bumbling Robots and Awkward Automatons of Silent Cinema” here.

Read Richard Kaufman, “Meet the First Robot in Movie History” here.



Still from The Master Mystery.

Click here to go to a YouTube clip from this serial.






Edison’s Talking Doll.

You can find out more about this design and listen to the early recordings of the doll’s voice on

The History Blog archive.







Cover for the first edition of The Tin Woodman of Oz.