You may be well familiar with the character of R2-D2 or Rosie the Robot or even Astro Boy. But what character was the first robot in all of entertainment history?
This question came to my mind upon revisiting the character of Robby the Robot. Although I’ve not done a full article about him, I feel that I do not yet know enough to say all that can be said about Robby. For now, let us take a trip into a past so far back that it is practically ancient in today’s world.
Again I ask this question, what was the first robot in science fiction? Was he or she evil? Or depicted as a helpmate? A friend? A solider or companion? So my dive into the proverbial rabbit hole began. Just as always, my obsessive compulsive curiosity got the better of me and I dug multiple tunnels through this rabbit hole. But I was only looking for one answer to this question.
Much of my searching came back with this result: Tik-Tok A plump fellow from the land of Ev in a spin off series from the Land of Oz (basically a sequel book to The Wizard of OZ). Is this the one from history definitively known as the first robot of science fiction? Oddly enough, the Oz series uses many men of metal. You might even consider the Tin man from The Wizard of Oz to be a robot.
But, this one acts and functions more-so like a robot. As it is basically a clock-work tin toy. One that would drain in power and require the winding up of three individual motors. 1 for thinking, one for motion and one for speech. He did not feel emotion. He is but a slave to his master.
So, one could say this was the first robot in entertainment. In the land of EV, this robot is the introductory character. A metal man who needs to be wound up and seems to hold a great mysterious understanding of things. Basically an artificial intelligence.
This book (Ozma of Oz) was published back in 1907. That is a whole fourteen years before the world is recorded to have been introduced to the word robots – robots in science fiction generally speaking. All from within the play titled R.U.R. Rossum’s Universal Robots.
Some could speculate if Tik-Tok was indeed the first robot within pop culture. I think it’s a safe bet. But one thing is for sure, I wonder if the author L. Frank Baum even realized the creature he was creating was of an entirely new design. Well, in all honesty he probably thought it’d be fun to have a man operate like a wind up toy, as complex wind-ups had been introduced already to the world back in the 1600s and made simpler in the 1800s with painted tin for children.
This whimsically designed character is one that stands today as a piece of robot history, whether the writer had intended it or not. I think that’s marvelous and fascinating.