Automaton mechanical toys

An automaton is a self-operating (toy) machine. The word is sometimes used to describe a robot, more specifically an autonomous robot. An alternative spelling -now obsolete- is automation.

The automata in the Hellenistic world were intended as toys, religious idols to impress worshipers, or tools for demonstrating basic scientific principles, including those built by Hero of Alexandria (sometimes known as Heron). When his writings on hydraulics, pneumatics, and mechanics were translated into Latin in the sixteenth century, Hero's readers initiated reconstruction of his machines, which included siphons, a fire engine, a water organ, the aeolipile and a programmable cart.

automaton toy antique

Famous Automata inventors

1709-1782 Jacques de Vaucanson produced some of the most famous historical automata and is regarded by many as one of the greatest automata makers of all time. His most famous automaton called The Duck was and artificial duck made of gilded copper which drank, eat, quacked, splashed about in water and digested its food like a living duck. Vancanson also made flute and tabor players. The flute player was 5ft 10in tall (1.8m) and stood on a pedestal. A current of air led through the complex mechanism causing the lips and fingers of the player to move naturally on the flute. Opening and closing holes on the instrument. It had a repertoire of twelve tunes. People could not believe that the sounds of the flute were made by the automaton, instead thinking that bellows or some other devise was making the sound. Spectators were invited to see the mechanism and internal details. They could also feel the breath coming from the lips of the flute player and see the fingers determining the notes.

1721-1790: Pierre Jaquet-Doz was a brilliant mathametition who was specialized in applied mechanics and horology. With the help of his son and adopted son he produced three automata which even today are considered wonders of science and mechanical engineering.

automaton french

The Writer, The drauftsman and The Musician still exist and are in the museum of Art and History in Switzerland. The writer can be programed to write up to 40 letters dipping his pen into the ink and writing each letter clearly, he even dots the i and crosses the t. The Draughtsman can draw four pictures and even blows the graphite of the page. The Musician plays an organ, depressing the keys of her instrument with her fingers whilst moving the upper part of her body in a life like manner and bows at the end of the performance.

1792: Tipoo's Tiger was made by the son of Sultan. Tipu's enemy was savaged by his favorite creature, the tiger. This automaton is made of wood and contains a miniature organ. The movement is limited to the movement of the soldiers arm whilst the tiger growls.

Zadoc Dederick's steam man from 1868:
steam man

1800-1850: Joseph Faber took 25 years to make his famous automaton Euphonia. The automata produced sounds similar to the human voice. It started by reciting the letters of the alphabet and then said "How do you do ladies and gentlemen". It asked and answered questions, whisper, sang and laughed. The mechanisms could be inspected. It even spoke in an German accent as it talked in English but was made by a German speaking Austrian. Every one that inspected the mechanism was satisfied that the automaton made the sounds and not a ventriloquist.

1893: George Moore made a steam powered man that worked from a gas-fired boiler. It reached a walking speed of 9 miles an hour.

A lot of interesting automata were made and perfected in the 19th century. It was a prolific and golden era for automata. It was also a time when mass production techniques meant that automata could be made cheaply and easily and it is around this time that we see the automata becoming more of a child's toy rather than an expensive adult pallor amusement. It is from this time on that mechanical toys took over and although they were to survive well into the 20th century it is sadly now a thing of the past. Modern expectations of children and safety registration have lead to the demise of the clock work tin toy.

Automaton links

Questions, comments, or sweet memories?
Share on this Automaton forum!


(will not be displayed)
yes, mail me the link to this page
For sale on eBay USA. To change country, click on flag:
Change selection: <---
worldwide only USA
ebay New to eBay? Join here, it's free!
Vintage Georg Kohler Germany toy automaton
vintage georg kohler germany2 bid(s)$10.49
show  ►
Rare mid 1800 s IVES BLACK AMERICANA
rare mid 1800 s ives black$20,000.00
show  ►
Emporium Monkey In A Palm Tree Automaton
emporium monkey in a palm tree$25.00
show  ►
How To Make An Automaton Sand Powered Moving
how to make an automaton sand$6.97
show  ►
C1880 Black Boy Store Window Advertising
c1880 black boy store window$6,500.00
show  ►
Sore Footed Salesman Shoe Store Advertising
sore footed salesman shoe$4,500.00
show  ►
TINPLATE GERMAN EINFALT LEVER AUTOMATON TOY
tinplate german einfalt lever$660.00
show  ►
Antique Vintage German Tinplate Clockwork
antique vintage german$118.57
show  ►
1821 Talbot County Maryland newspaper w
1821 talbot county maryland$55.00
show  ►
LARGE GERMAN SINGING MUSICAL BIRD AUTOMATION
large german singing musical$2,235.14
show  ►
Rare Victorian Clockwork Canary Hopping
rare victorian clockwork$64.07
show  ►
How To Make An Antique Automaton Sand Powered
how to make an antique$6.97
show  ►
Vintage Wind Up Tin Doll USSR Russia Dancing
vintage wind up tin doll ussr$29.99
show  ►
EARLY 1900 BING GERMAN MONKEY AUTOMATON
early 1900 bing german monkey$1,490.00
show  ►
Timberkits Wooden Self Assembly Automaton Kit
timberkits wooden self$24.99
show  ►
Pegasus Automaton Instructions Only LEGO
pegasus automaton instructions$13.00
show  ►
Timberkits Beam Engine Wooden Self Assembly
timberkits beam engine wooden$36.99
show  ►
Vintage 1961 Marx Toys Buttons The Puppy A
vintage 1961 marx toys buttons$75.00
show  ►
Vintage Treasure Chest Battery Operated
vintage treasure chest battery$150.00
show  ►
Timberkits Wooden Self Assembly Automaton
timberkits wooden self$37.35
show  ►
1X NM Mint English Lurking Automaton
1x nm mint english lurking$5.54
show  ►
UBER RPG STEAMPUNK UMBRIDGE OF THE
uber rpg steampunk umbridge of$10.29
show  ►
NEW Flying Dragon Working Wooden
new flying dragon working$35.25
show  ►
NEW Flying Pteranodon Working Wooden
new flying pteranodon working$24.27
show  ►
Timberkits Wooden Self Assembly Automaton
timberkits wooden self$40.60
show  ►
NEW Jumping Horse Working Wooden
new jumping horse working$26.43
show  ►
Adaptive Automaton foil Free shipping in
adaptive automaton foil free$6.00
show  ►
4 x Adaptive Automaton M12 Rare
4 x adaptive automaton m12$3.99
show  ►