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Push Button Lunch (1903)

This Professor Jyblitts cartoon from 1903 imagines an "automatic luncheon" similar to the automats that began popping up in the early 20th century. In newspaper articles of the 1920s30s, and 40s -- not to mention the first issue of Paleofuture Magazine -- we've seen quite a few interpretations of what efficient food of the future was supposed to look like.

1936 New York automat (source: New York Public Library)

Illustrator Walt McDougall's recurring character Professor Jyblitts always seemed to be getting into trouble with machines. In this comic, which appeared in the October 18, 1903 Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), Jyblitts passes an "automatic dining and lunch parlor" and is greeted by robot arms that relieve him of his hat, cane and coat. Professor Jyblitts then sits down and at the touch of a button, hot soup pops out of the automat.

Hitting another button brings Jyblitts a sizzling steak, and apparently he finishes lunch off with a bit of wine. Another push of a button clears the table automatically.


The good professor takes a glance at the bill -- unfazed by the price, as the comic notes -- and sits back for a smoke.

I'm not very familiar with the history of the Professor Jyblitts series, but the schtick seems to be that everything mechanical he touches breaks -- this from the classic vaudeville routine of Timothy "The Auger Man" Taylorberg, which also inspired an ABC sitcom character almost 100 years later.*

For more on visions of futuristic food be sure to check out the food episode of and the first issue of Paleofuture Magazine


*Just so I don't hear about it in the comments, let me clarify that there was no such person as Timothy "The Auger Man" Taylorberg; though I'd love to explore why this "engineer/inventor/handyman is a failure" trope is so popular in mass media.

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Reader Comments (8)

I think it's popular because it humanizes technology. Instead of awe inspiring technical perfection, we have something human, imperfect, and funny.

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVicky

Just ordered the magazine. Thanks!

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

"*Just so I don't hear about it in the comments, let me clarify that there was no such person as Timothy "The Auger Man" Taylorberg"

I'm sorry but, then, why did you refer to him as a significant character here? Your readers are not all in the joke here, you can be sure of that.

So here you are, hearing about it in the comments, which is as it should be.


May 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDual

I guess that Timothy "The Auger Man" Taylorberg is supposed to be merging together of both Tim Taylor and Rube Goldberg.

May 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterbG

I wonder if 100 years from now someone will have a blog about todays life?

Gawd, I miss the old Automat -- that was always one of the best parts of any trip to NYC! They had a new "automat" a few years ago, but it was just a fancy vending machine with pre-packaged items, not a place where freshly cooked food was always being prepared.

May 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbuzz

this blog is amazing to think what they thought would be of the future back then

I have a fragment of a memory of visiting an Automat sometime in the late 1950's. All I remember is getting pie from one of the openings (is there a name for them?) and looking through the opening to see what was on the other side (and for more pie). I'll have to ask my sister if she remembers going there, although I don't remember who took me there.

I'm not surprised that this went out of fashion though. Unless the Automat was constantly busy, the food sitting in the vending openings would eventually reach room temperature and become unappetizing warm and stale. You might as well visit a cafeteria or the newfangled fast food places like McDonald's.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterbG

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