Thursday, 16 September 2010

Twenties Robots

The photo above is of 'a robot public speaker that recently opened an exhibition in London'. It kicks off an article about 'man versus machine' in the March 1929 edition of The Strand. What struck me, apart from its classic retro art deco look, is that it has 'R.U.R.' emblazoned across its chest. This stands, as I'm sure you know, for 'Rossum's Universal Robots', the UK translation of Karel Capek's famous play which is said to have introduced the word 'robot' to the world. In the playwright's native Czech, robota means 'forced labour'. According to the Wikipedia article on the play, Capek's robots were more like clones or androids than mechanical men - a race of subhuman beings bred for slavery.
'Rossum's Universal Robots' was premiered in 1921 (a scene from it is reproduced top). By the end of the decade it seems the word was already fully established in its modern usage. It's interesting that the 'robot public speaker' above should have 'R.U.R.' on it - was it built to tie in with a revival of the play or had those initials become so solidly associated with the concept of a robot that the designer automatically added them?
There are several interesting articles in the 1929 editions of The Strand - unusually for the 20s editions - and I'll post a few more pix from them over the next few days.

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