Boilerplate Lost, Now Found

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By: Steven Heller | November 2, 2009

We are painfully aware that drone aircraft and other unmanned fighting machines have made the “art” of war even more horrific than ever. But did you know that 100-plus years ago–in 1898, during the Spanish-American War–the first mechanical man, or robotic soldier, charged with Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill?

He also fought in the Japanese-Russian War, the Philippine War of 1899, and the Boxer Rebellion in China. His name was Boilerplate, the invention of Chicago Professor Archibald Campion (below top, right), and for decades his stunning exploits have been forgotten. That is, until an intrepid pair, Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, brought this extraordinary Victorian invention back to life through their website and book, Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel.

The book is a pitch-perfect replication of the days before our current digital wonders when H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Albert Robida spun their futuristic yarns. The details are extraordinary, the fantasy sublime. So don’t miss a thrilling screen-page of this rich site filled with news, adventures and souvenirs (below middle). You’ll never look at your boiler the same way again.

mechanical man figure
Marvel of the Klondike