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Kimberly Blessing Hi, my name is Kimberly Blessing. I'm a computer scientist, Web developer, standards evangelist, feminist, and geek. This is where I write about life, the Web, technology, women's issues, and whatever else comes to mind.

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Nominate Elektro for the Hall of Fame!

A while back, I made mentioned that was going to be on display at the Mansfield Memorial Museum in Mansfield, Ohio, as part of their Mechanical Men of Westinghouse 1924-1940 exhibit. I’m happy to report that I finally made the trip to see the exhibit and Elektro!

I must thank and commend Scott Schaut, director of the museum, for putting together a world-class exhibit and for doing so much to preserve both Westinghouse history and robotic history. Scott, a palentologist, has done an excellent job of educating himself on these topics, and he’s now doing an incredible job educating the public and advocating for Elektro.

Why would Elektro need advocating, you ask? Apparently, there are robotics experts that dismiss Elektro and say he’s not a true robot. I can’t understand this. The word was coined long before digital computers existed, and the term was applied to Elektro at the time of his creation and popularity. Certainly, when you compare Elektro to modern robots, you’re looking at apples and oranges — however, that doesn’t dismiss the aim that Elektro’s creators had in mind when they constructed him. It also cannot dismiss the fact that hundreds of thousands of people saw a fully-functional robot in the 1930’s, and that it changed people’s perceptions of the future and of technology.

While he may have been touted as the “ultimate appliance” at the time of his creation, he was a true scientific (or engineering) marvel that inspired many notions in science fiction. (Or did science fiction inspire his creation? Does art imitate life or life imitate art? In any case…) My great aunt, at the age of 85, can recall seeing Elektro at the 1939 and 1940 World’s Fairs and thinking of what it would be like to have a robot in the house. Sixty-some years later, we have robots that can do specific tasks on command and autonomously, but none has ever reached the level of robotic maid or butler. (Take that Rosie the Robot and C3P0!)

Elektro, and his creators, deserve to be celebrated — not ignored. If you agree with me, please help! Nominate Elektro for the Robot Hall of Fame! And be sure to make the trip to Mansfield to see Elektro for yourself.

PS: Keep an eye out for his book on the Westinghouse mechanical men, due later this year — he tells me there’s a secret about Elektro in there, which currently only three people in the world are privy to!

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