Robots I Have Known

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My grand-daughter, Maddie, is fascinated by robots. Considering that she’s just over three years old, that’s a good indication, to me at least, of the prevalence of robots in our culture.

The word “robot” was created by a Czech painter in 1920 for his brother to use in a play to describe the machines who did drudge work. It’s a spinoff of the Slovak word for “serf.” Here’s a photo of three robots from that play, Karel Capek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which debuted in 1920:

So from the beginning, robots had to have some resemblance to humans and be capable of movement. There are many robotic machines in use today but few are what we think of as robots. They’re just machines designed for repetitive tasks.

This cute stamped-metal toy from the 1950s is what a robot looked like to kids of my generation, though not all of them carried little red lanterns:

In the movies, one of the most iconic robots was Robby in The Forbidden Planet from 1956:

Robby was created by the prop makers at MGM and appeared in later TV shows and movies under other names. His best feature was the gears moving inside the transparent dome on his head.

The most famous film robot was probably R2D2 from Star Wars:

His buddy, C-3PO, was more of an android, I guess, but here he is:

Television had had many great robots. The Simpsons creator, Matt Groening, had a robot named Bender on a show called Futurama:

Here’s the 1948 comic book cover that Bender was based upon:

My favorite television robots were the wisecracking Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000; here they are with their creator, Joel:

In comic books, unrestrained by having to be a physical object, robots were everywhere and of all shapes and sizes. A 1941 Action Comic shows Superman smashing a couple of crude robots:

On the early ’50s television show, The Adventures of Superman, there were a couple of robots. You can see they, too, were crude, reflecting the cheap budget of that truly wonderful show. Superman, as portrayed by George Reeves, was much kinder to this robot than his comic-book counterpart had been a few years earlier:

Side comment: In my opinion, George Reeves’ portrayal of Superman was flat-out the most successful by any actor. We now return to the robots.

In the later 1950s, DC editor Mort Weisinger created a Superman ethos that included a ton of great robots. Superman made an entire platoon of robots to cover for him in emergencies, and, as this Action Comics cover from 1961 shows, he had a few Clark Kent robots, too:

I love the expression on the face of that Clark Kent robot! He is really confounded by his predicament. And how do you like that expository dialog? Weisinger was famous for that and I find it one of the coolest things about the comics he edited; it was so over-the-top. One of his assistants once argued with Weisinger over the editor’s insistence on having a sign over a crook’s secret hideout that said, “Secret Hideout!”

These later Superman comic-book robots looked so much like humans that even close friends of the original subject couldn’t tell they were artificial. These high-end robots often had emotions, and, to my way of thinking, started crossing into what are more properly called androids. An android is a synthetic human being, and folks are busily creating them nowadays!

Here’s one called DER 01, made by the Intelligent Robotics Lab in Japan:

Spooky, huh?!?!?

How many robots and androids do you know?

It’s About TIme!

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Back in the early 1960s, there was a lot of interest in time capsules. Usually these were a big deal and there were World’s Fair time capsules, scientific-society time capsules, and, of course, home-made ones. I buried one, made of a big metal coffee can, in our backyard in 1961. That was the year JFK was inaugurated, and I thought it was the beginning of a brave new world.

Being nine years old at the time, I chose what was important to me for my gift to the people of the future. I remember stuffing a Superman comic book into the can, some toys, and a couple of silver dollars I had saved. It was fun imaging how impressed people of the year 2061 would be when they found it!

Of course, my brother and his troops could have dug it up a week after I buried it for all I knew. But it was something to have fun doing.

Fast-forward to today. Remember the post a couple of weeks ago where I identified the home we lived in 50 years ago? Well, I just sent them a letter telling them about the time capsule. Photos taken in 1961 show them where the thing was buried, and I told them if they found anything at all, they were welcome to it.

Whether or not they’ll find anything, or do more than simply toss the letter in the trash, I can’t say. If nothing else, they may get a kick out of seeing what their home looked like over 50 years ago. But if anything interesting turns up, I’ll share it here!!!


As of the end of November, three and a half months after I sent the letter to the folks at our old address, the people there haven’t responded.

Great Scott!

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As a kid, I loved comic books and the one I loved the most was DC’s World’s Finest Comics. It had originally started as New York World’s Fair Comics, in 1939. Then it became World’s Best Comics and finally World’s Finest Comics. Its early issues were 96-pagers, but soon settled in at 76 pages for fifteen cents for many years. Superman and Batman each had their own stories, along with a bunch of lesser characters.

The covers showed Superman and Batman together in a poster setting that had nothing to do with the contents of the books. All this was way before my time. The page count began slimming down by the late 1940s, as seen here, but the price stayed at fifteen cents. I have to wonder how many of these comics were sold at a dime, since that was the going rate for a comic book.

In 1954, when things got tough for comics publishers, DC changed the format to 36 pages (including the covers), cut a lot of the secondary features and reduced the price to ten cents, like most all other comics. They also combined Superman and Batman into one story, which seems an obvious move after all those previous covers showing them both together. Those are the comics I loved; they gave great value for your dime. The art was crisp and well-drawn; the stories were interesting with intriguing plots. And the idea of superheroes being friends was wonderful to a kid.

The Justice League of America, which came out a few years later, had most all the DC heroes, including Superman and Batman, but the art was lame and the stories confusing with seven or eight heroes bouncing around. World’s Finest was more to my liking. Now, too, the covers related to the stories found in the issue.

For about 50 issues, World’s Finest Comics were a real hoot, and there were two things about the covers I really liked. Usually, someone (Superman, Batman or Robin) would exclaim, “Great Scott!” at whatever was going on.

And Robin, being rather a fifth wheel, would often be stuck in the bottom corner of the cover.

My favorite covers had both the Great Scott! AND Robin in the corner.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a real person say, “Great Scott!” but comic books were aimed at 12-year-olds, and the publishers had to be careful. The very early Superman used a lot of “What the–“ exclamations, and the reader could fill in the blank but that only lasted a couple of years. Thus, “Great Scott!” And see that “Still 10¢” in bold type on the pink cover? That was a hint that something was in the works at DC, and it wasn’t good.

After a while, someone at DC must have issued an order about these recurring items, and Great Scott! was replaced with a couple of Great Kryptons! or Great Guns! and once even with a Great Gosh! Robin, instead of being stuck in the corner, was just left off the cover entirely as often as not.

By then the comics had gone up in price to twelve cents each (that previously noted “Still 10¢” really meant “Not Yet 12¢”) and the art wasn’t as lively or well-drawn as it had once been. It was the end of an era.