The 1930s Mechanical Man Who Tried To Start A Robot Uprising

Back in 1932, the world was awash in newspaper stories about a robot that had done the unthinkable: a mechanical man had shot its inventor.

As you can imagine, the stories were a bit... shall we say, exaggerated. But, at a time when robots represented something fearful—a potent symbol of runaway automation and job loss—it's easy to understand why so many people were quick to believe it. According to Virginia Postrel's new book, about 25% of jobless Americans thought automation was to blame for their unemployment by the end of the Great Depression.

But the robot of this era wasn't content to just take your job—it was going to hunt you down and start a full-fledged robot uprising. We've covered these bizarre tales of 1930s gunslinging robots before, but I recently came across some new (to me, anyway) photos of the robot that started it all. The pictures were taken in 1935 and show Alpha the robot, along with an unnamed man (probably inventor Harry May) who doesn't seem at all concerned about that, in retrospect, quite ominous pistol.

Alpha and his gun made an appearance at the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego—a World's Fair that doesn't get as much respect as, say, those in New York (1939 and 1964) or Chicago (1893 and 1933).

The robot didn't become a serial killer! But one has to wonder why a gun-toting robot alone couldn't be enough to get historians looking anew at this overlooked Fair.


Images: Alpha the robot courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library