History of the automaton

Video extract : 56 K or 512 K (with Windows Media Player)
(Example of a replica of the duck automaton created by Vaucanson).

This extract comes from the film "The Jaquet-Droz androids".
This film and many others about automatons and androids
are available in english version on our online shop.

According to the Larousse dictionary, an automaton is : "a machine which by means of mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, electric or electronic devices, is able to do acts imitating the living body."

Moreover, the word "android" designates all automatons with a human face. In their most sophisticated form, androids are designed with movements and dimensions which closely imitate nature.

A little walker automaton - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

A little walker automaton
Flash animation

The 18th century, the great era of androids and artificial animals

The genuine automatons were born in the middle of the Age of Enlightenment, thanks to the art of watchmaking. This period, which was dominated by scientific spirit, and more precisely, by the biomechanical conception of the human being, corresponds to the birth of numerous artificial creatures, which were intended to be exact replicas or copies of nature. Androids and mechanical animals were thus manufactured by watchmaking technicians who were very interested in medicine and natural sciences. They did not aim at

entertaining but rather at contributing to the progress of science. In that view, they surrounded themselves with doctors and surgeons to elaborate the different artificial organs. The greatest creators of automatons at that time were : Vaucanson, Friedrich von Knauss, Baron von Kempelen, Pierre and Louis Jaquet-Droz, Abbot Mical, and Kintzing.

In a general way, each one of the artificial bodies made in the 18th century was a unique work of art that was the result of a long, tedious periode of elaboration. But the results were impressive : many androids of great complexity and designed with real functions were created : writers, draftsmen or musician automatons.


An elephant automaton - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

A elephant automaton
Flash animation


This philosophy also gave birth to artificial animals. Their behaviour simulated almost perfectly the animal world : peacocks, insects, dogs, swans, frogs, elephants, crayfishes and ducks made up, among others, the bestiary of these creator-zoologists.

1800 - 1850 The era of the magicians-technicians

Robert-Houdin and behind him, his automatons - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

In the early 1800's, many automaton makers were magicians or creators inspired by the shows of illusionists that were very much in vogue at that time.

Among the great magicians who built automatons, we can mention : Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic and Stèvenard, a contemporary of Robert-Houdin and perhaps the most talented of all automaton creators.

As for the Maillardet brothers, they were inspired by the theme of magic and thus created clocks with magician and soothsayer automatons.

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin and,
behind him, his writer automaton

"The golden age" of automatons : 1850 - 1914

An automaton created by Decamps - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

With the industrial revolution, the creation of automatons, like for dolls, became industrialized. About ten artisans, living for the most part in the Marais section of Paris, made numerous performing automatons. Admittedly, these creatures were less performing than those of the 18th century, but were perhaps more endearing, since they were inspired by the parisian life and the world of entertainment : magic shows, circuses and music halls.

Among the most famous names, we can mention : Théroude, Phalibois, Lambert, Renou, Roullet- Decamps, Vichy and Bontemps.

At the outbreak of World War I, this industry gradually started to disappear.
"The clown and the moon" an automaton created
by Roullet-Decamps
Flash animation

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