"The way you write science fiction is: you sit down at your writing machine and you open your mind to the first thought that comes through."
- Frederik Pohl
||Electric-Automatic Housemaid Robot (Automaton)
||A very early description of a robot to help around the house.
This seems to be the earliest description of a robotic household helper.
|The return mail brought me a reply stating that two Electric-Automatic Household Beneficent Geniuses had been shipped me by express. The letter enclosed a pamphlet that gave a more particular account of the E. A. H. B. G. than the circulars contained. My friend’s invention was shaped in the likeness of the human figure, with body, head, arms, legs, hands and feet. It was clad in waterproof cloth, with a hood of the same to protect the head, and was shod with felt. The trunk contained the wheels and springs, and in the head was fixed the electric battery. The face, of bisque, was described as possessing “a very natural and pleasing expression.”
Just at dusk an oblong box arrived by express and was duly delivered in our hall, but at my wife’s urgent entreaty I consented not to unpack the machines until next day.
“If we should not get the knack of managing them, they might give us trouble,” said this wise wife of mine.
I agreed to this, and having sent away Bridget with a week’s wages, to the satisfaction of all parties, we went to bed in high hopes.
Early next morning we were astir.
“My dear,” I said, “do not give yourself the least concern about breakfast; I am determined that Harrison’s invention shall have fair play.”
“Very well,” my wife assented: but she prudently administered bread and butter to her offspring.
I opened the oblong box, where lay the automatons side by side, their hands placidly folded upon their waterproof breasts, and their eyes looking placidly expectant from under their waterproof hoods.
I confess the sight gave me a shock. Anna Maria turned pale; the children hid their faces in her skirts.
“Once out of the box,” I said to myself, “and the horror will be over.”
The machines stood on their feet admirably, but the horror was not materially lessened by this change of position. However, I assumed a bold front, and said, jocosely:
“Now, which is Bridget, and which is Juliana — which the cook, and which the housemaid?”
This distinction was made clear by dial-plates and indicators, set conspicuously between the shoulders, an opening being cut in the waterproof for that purpose. The housemaid’s dial-plate was stamped around the circumference with the words: Bed, Broom, Duster, Door-bell, Dining-room Service, Parlor Service, etc. In like manner, the cook’s dial-plate bore the words that pertained to her department. I gave myself first to “setting” the housemaid, as being the simpler of the two.
“Now, my dear,” said I, confidently, “we shall see how this Juliana can make the beds.”
I proceeded, according to the pamphlet’s directions, to point the indicator to the word “Bed.” Next, as there were three beds to be made, I pushed in three of the five little red points surrounding the word. Then I set the “clock” connected with the indicator, for a thirty minutes’ job, thinking it might take about ten minutes to a bed. I did not consult my wife, for women do not understand machinery, and any suggestion of hesitancy on my part would have demoralized her.
The last thing to be done was to connect the indicator with the battery, a simple enough performance in itself, but the pamphlet of directions gave a repeated and red-lettered “Caution,” never to interfere with the machine while it was at work! I therefore issued the command, “Non-combatants to the rear!” and was promptly obeyed.
What happened next I do not pretend to account for. By what subtle and mysterious action of electricity, by what unerring affinity, working through a marvellous mechanism, that Electric-Automatic Household Beneficent Genius, whom — or which, for short — we called Juliana, sought its appropriate task, is the inventor’s secret. I don’t undertake to explain, I merely narrate. With a “click” the connection was made, and the new Juliana went upstairs at a brisk and business-like pace.
We followed in breathless amazement. In less than five minutes, bed number one was made, and in a twinkling the second was taken in hand, and number three also was fairly accomplished, long before the allotted thirty minutes had expired. By this time, familiarity had somewhat dulled that awe and wonder with which we had gaped upon the first performance, and I beheld a smile of hopeful satisfaction on my wife’s anxious countenance.
|From Ely's Automatic Housemaid,
by Elizabeth Bellamy.
Published by The Black Cat in 1899
Additional resources -
Compare to Flexible Frank from Robert Heinlein's 1956 novel Door into Summer.
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