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Mechanical Wonder Maiden (1930)

Much like her robotic brother Herbert Televox, robot Miss Katrina Van Televox toured the country demonstrating Westinghouse products. According to this ad in the October 3, 1930 Altoona Mirror (Altoona, PA) Miss Van Televox talks, answers the phone, runs a vacuum cleaner and makes coffee.

Adding the supposed cost of this robot to the ad, $22,000, was yet another way to give that feeling of inevitability which pops up repeatedly in 1930's discussions of robots.

Katrina talks... answers the phone... runs a vacuum cleaner... makes coffee and toast... turns the lights on and off and does it all willingly at command from Mr. T. Barnard the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Expert who is accompanying her on her tour. The audience will also assist Mr. Barnard in making Katrina work. Her appearance here at The American Legion Home is her first in Altoona and women of this city are cordially invited by the Penn Central Light & Power Co., sponsors of her visit, to attend her personal appearance.

Katrina is chief demonstrator of the famous Westinghouse Flavor Zone range and is the sister of Herbert Televox famous metal man who has shown before many scientific gatherings. As Katrina's stay in Altoona is limited, The Penn Central Company ask all who wish to view these amazing demonstrations to plan their visit early. The admission is Free.


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Reader Comments (6)

I don't think the price tag of $22,000 was meant to make the robot sound "inevitable" (which I take to mean "soon-to-be-affordable"), but instead to make it sound rare and sophisticated. $22,000 in 1930 was equivalent to about $283,000 today.

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAaron T.

After reading a number of the robot servant posts I wonder if the 20's/30's robot craze fueled such publicity stunts or if it was the other way around.

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

I realize that $22,000 was a lot of money, but in my opinion adding a fixed price to something makes it feel more real and "on the way." You're right, the primary goal was likely to make it feel like something special, but this was the first robot I've come across which attached a price.

January 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterMatt Novak

Offering a fixed price for something that doesn't exist is common today - for instance, space tourism outfits are advertising ticket prices and taking deposits on services they can't yet provide. Likewise, Tesla had a sticker price for their roadster long before they had a car.

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterazinyk

If you really want to know about these robots, check out the book "The Robots of Westinghouse", by Scott Schaut of the Mansfield Memorial Museum. While the ads and the robots that toured gave the public a sense of the future of automation, the technology behind them was pretty advanced for the day.

The name of the robot(s) - "Televox" - gives it away: It was a system of electronic and electro-mechanical controls to allow for remote switching and sensing in industrial settings via the telephone system. Think remote telemetry and operational control.

For instance, a power company could monitor a dam generating electricity by dialing it up, sending some control tones down the line, and the apparatus at the dam would interpret those tones to control floodgate, or perhaps report on the water level or such back to the remote operator.

The system was quite interesting in how it worked, especially the earliest incarnations, which were part electronic, part mechanical, and utilized tuning-forks for tone generation and sensing (this was well before compact electronic oscillators and discrimination circuitry). The Westinghouse robots all used this same equipment to allow their operators the ability to control them. They were essentially technology demonstrators.

...and what a far reaching (for the time) technology it was!

December 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercr0sh

This is an interesting idea. Some engineers have put together a small, autonomous, wheeled robot. It’s designed to roll around on a person and give them a massage. The robot has tilt sensors built in so that it knows when its about to roll off your back, and also apparently “grips” while giving the massage.Thanks………….

February 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobot Vacuums

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