The Newark Steam Man

I found the following story on an episode of QI (series N, episode “Non-Sequiturs”).

In 1868 in Newark, New Jersey, inventors Isaac Grass and (the amazingly named) Zadoc P. Dederick created something that could–in theory–replace horses to pull carriages. What they came up with was the Newark Steam Man:

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AUGH

SEND HIS TIN ASS BACK TO HELL

It worked by opening his jacket and putting coal in his chest which, when fired, would vent smoke out of his top hat and cigarette.

As you can imagine, it was quite the novelty for the public. However, these automatons could not be produced cheaply enough to catch on and replace horses.

In 1893, the idea was revamped by Canadian inventor George Moore who, bizarrely, made the original idea worse. It was the exact same principle as Grass and Dederick’s invention, except Moore’s robot could only move if it was attached to a pole in the ground . . . so it could only walk in a circle, being ultimately a useless machine.

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3 Responses to The Newark Steam Man

  1. There were other pioneers hard at work producing steam-powered robots. One produced steam-powered goats that were popular for initiation ceremonies held by the many masonic-inspired societies that were in vogue at the time. Apparently real goats were being ridden, and as most of the groups met in the front rooms of their more affluent members it was quickly discovered how much damage a goat can cause when frightened. At least 2 robot elephants were constructed, one by an artist (if I remember rightly) in Paris which still exists and can be ridden for a small fee. The other was in the US and I found a contemporary newspaper article which claimed that a city (possibly Chicago) had bought it to be used as street cleaning equipment. I have tweeted about these and other futuristic Victorian technology pioneers over the last few years together with photos wherever possible and feel that there’s a book to be written about them. And one day I’ll finish writing it…

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  2. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Year 3, Vol. #22 | Whewell's Ghost

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