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The History of Robots in the Victorian Era

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Robots have been making significant inroads into our culture over the last few years. They're roaming on and around distant planets, building cars, vacuuming the rug and even serving as surrogate pets. But it may surprise you to learn that sophisticated androids have been walking the earth since at least the late 1800s - achieving feats that still haven't been equalled in the 21st century. (One prototype actually took part in World War One.) The History of Robots in the Victorian Era follows the careers of these early automatons, and at the same time, tests the limits of human credibility.

Launched in July 2000 to tell the amazing story of "Boilerplate" (history's first mechanical soldier created in 1893), the website has since expanded to include three other milestones of robotic engineering - The Electric Man (1885), The Steam Man (1865), and the Automatic Man (exact date unknown). And while these Victorian marvels might have benefited from some more imaginative names, their exploits (from Antarctic exploration and circumnavigation to foiling train robberies) would put Honda's new robot ASIMO to shame. One can only imagine why so few of us know about these extraordinary machines today.

Unless, of course, it's because they never existed.

Truth be told, The History of Robots in the Victorian Era is an unintentional hoax - originally created as an online pitch for a graphic novel about the tin soldier, Boilerplate. (Samples from the book are posted onsite.) Things got interesting, though, when webmaster and commercial artist, Paul Guinan, realized that some visitors to the site were taking the fiction as fact, and, as would any self-respecting artist when faced with such an opportunity, Guinan decided to see just how real he could make his character seem. Still, this isn't a 'hoax' in the sense of a serious intent to deceive - there are clues throughout the site (not to mention articles about the true nature of Boilerplate's status), and at least one outright disclaimer - the latter included to appease the good folks at the San Diego Maritime Museum.


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