(The list is under construction, suggestions are welcome.)

  • Ibn Ismail Ibn al-Razzaz Al-Jazari
  • Musa Brothers
  • Wolfgang von Kempelen
  • Francesco di Giorgio Martini
  • Jacques de Vaucansan
  • Leonardo Da Vinci

Honorable Mention (Mainly people from other time periods)

Hero of Alexandria

58 Responses to “Clockwork Men”


  1. 1 David March 12, 2007 at 10:56 am

    How about Hero of Alexandria, who built anamatronics in 50 A.D.?

  2. 2 Da Vinci Automata March 12, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    Hero of Alexandria lived in the classical Greco-Roman period and thus there are difference in opinion regarding if he should be included or not given that Clockpunk is mainly set in the Renaissance and shortly before that.

  3. 3 Heather McD. March 13, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    This may be a strange question, but I read a novel a long time ago (early 90’s, but the book was maybe 10 years older) about a guy who built clockwork automata in the 1700’s (?). He ended up traveling to, and living in, the Kingdom of Siam with a clockwork person he’d made. It was a strange book, and I didn’t particularly fall in love with it, but the descriptions of clockwork in it got me started on a lifelong obsession. Anyone ever heard of it? I’d love to find it again.

  4. 4 Da Vinci Automata March 14, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Heather, I am not familiar with the story but I would love to know more myself. Anyone got more info on this?

  5. 5 Sue Mitchell March 17, 2007 at 5:47 am

    Da Vinci Automata wrote: “Clockpunk is mainly set in the Renaissance and shortly before that.”
    ———————-
    Isn’t this a bit limiting? If someone is before his or her time, should there not be at least an honourable mention?

  6. 6 Da Vinci Automata March 19, 2007 at 3:06 am

    Sur, In some sense it is limiting but I like the idea of honorable mention and so I will add Hero the list.

  7. 7 Ethan March 20, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Along with Bida’ azZaman, the Wonder of the Age, as al-Jazari was known, you should include his earlier predecessors in Islamic engineering and automata, the brothers Banu Musa, who worked as scientists and engineers for the calliph in Baghdad in the 9th century CE (3rd century AH, year of the Hijra). Ahmad ibn Musa’s “Book of Ingenious Devices” (kitab al hiyal) containes many, well, ingenious devices, largely using water pressure, including very fancy automata for serving wine (although not “programmable).

    In general, the “Renaissance” is a very limiting time period for clockpunk, because many of the mechanical innovations that make it possible were in fact invented centuries earlier by Arabic/Muslim engineers and were only translated into European languages following the fall of Andalucia, Muslim Spain, in the decades preceeding 1492 CE. In general they made vast advances in gear technology, precision crafting, clockworks, and the study of water pressure and fluid dynamics, not to mention optics, medicine, astronomy and mathematics that became the basis for everything the Europeans did later once translations into Latin became available to them.

    • 8 Kristoffer Holmén July 16, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      And a bunch of those things started of in the Hellenistic area 300 to 200 BC. Some of those thing were lost for us in Europe for a while until we rediscovered them in old scrolls that had been preserved/copied, sometimes distorted by lesser translations. Already at those times there were advanced gear mechanisms and myths about automatic men or dolls expanding on the existing innovations. The arabic cultures saved a lot of those scrolls for us and further evolved the ideas.

      I definitely accept having sort of standard expectations like mostly being during the Renaissance era but Hellenistic times is another fitting period to have an alternative historia, say that Rome doesn’t conquer the whole of mediterranean and don’t shatter the libraries as spoils of war and don’t put people on the throne the harass the former upper class (who were the inventors and almost-scientists). I would probably be possible to start of steam punk here as well.

  8. 9 Da Vinci Automata March 24, 2007 at 3:20 am

    Ethan, that is an excellent point i.e., some of the inventions were indeed created before the Renaissance. However Renaissance comes with a particular mindset but I see your point so it would be fruitful to expand the definition which I will do so.

  9. 10 judasnoose March 29, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    There was a medieval Japanese researcher who built a clockwork tea-serving robot.

    Japan’s mechanical dolls, or karakuri ningyo, are said to have come from China. The Edo period (1603-1867) brought development of a true clockwork-doll culture, spurred by the Takeda-za, a mechanical-puppet theater founded in 1662 in Osaka’s Dotonbori district.

    Diagrams for a tea-serving doll, archetype of the clockwork figures that were Japan’s earliest robots, can be found in Karakuri Zui (Illustrated Miscellany of Automata) written by Hanzo Yorinao Hosokawa in 1796. This book is an early guide to mechanical devices. In its pages the late Masanori Takashina (the seventh doll artisan to inherit the name Tamaya Shobei) found the instructions he needed to recreate the wondrous tea-serving doll. We asked Shoji Takashina, the ninth and current Tamaya Shobei, for a demonstration and some inside information on clockwork dolls. He invited us up to the roof of the Aichi Pavilion in the Nagakute area of the World Expo.

    http://int.kateigaho.com/spr05/robots.html

  10. 11 bonne-voglie October 29, 2008 at 6:39 am

    bonjour,
    For Heather,
    This stoy “ring a bell” I tried to remember, and perhaps (not sure…!) it could be a book of Han Suyin “la cité des sortilèges” (in french …)

    I founded this (english!!):
    ” The Enchantress shows Han Suyin’s unsurpassed mastery in creating top-quality fiction, which is like a powerful volcano eruption of untamed fantasy. As usual, the book is composed of a more general framework, with an incrustation in the form of a dreamworld and unfulfilled love between the twin brother and sister. The book’s events take place in the eighteenth century in Lausanne, then the real Mecca of clockmaking and the construction of precision clockwork machines that look human, draw pictures, play music, and are the rage of Europe. The orphaned teenage brother and sister already are the skilled constructors of such automata, and forced by some unfavourable external events abandon Europe and travel a long way to the court of Chinese emperors, to serve them with their highly esteemed and precious craftmanship. Eventually, they have to flee China, spending about twelve years in Thailand. Finally, they return to Lausanne. With this fascinating fiction, Han Suyin seems to pay a personal tribute to the land of her birth, China; to the area of her past residence for so many years, South-East Asia; and to the place of her present residence, Lausanne. “

  11. 12 Ali Abbas November 12, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Richard of Wallingford…the bloke who built one of the first ever clocks at St Albans Abbey

    Aristarchus – the greek who proposed heliocentric universe, but missedout on any kudos because not many people believed him ,and he didnt publish….so Copernicus generally gets all the credit.

  12. 13 Qirool February 5, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Jacques de VaucansOn… sorry😉

  13. 14 Dan March 6, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Tibetans were not known for their clockwork, but they did introduce the ball-and-chain governor to Italian machine design, according to Lynn Whyte. Have a look here:
    http://tinyurl.com/b445se
    and leave a comment if you have anything to say about what you find there.
    Yours,
    Dan

  14. 15 Tuan July 21, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    How about Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), Swedish inventor & philosopher.

    • 16 Tuan July 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm

      In 1715 Swedenborg returned to Sweden, where he was to devote himself to natural science and engineering projects for the next two decades. A first step was his noted meeting with King Charles XII of Sweden in the city of Lund, in 1716. The Swedish inventor Christopher Polhem, who became a close friend of Swedenborg’s, was also present. Swedenborg’s purpose was to persuade the king to fund an observatory in northern Sweden. However, the warlike king did not consider this project important enough, but did appoint Swedenborg assessor-extraordinary on the Swedish board of mines (Bergskollegium) in Stockholm.[14]

      From 1716 to 1718 Swedenborg published a scientific periodical entitled Daedalus Hyperboreus (“The Northern Daedalus”), a record of mechanical and mathematical inventions and discoveries. One notable description was that of a flying machine, the same he had been sketching a few years earlier (see Flying Machine (Swedenborg)).[13]

      In 1724 he was offered the chair of mathematics at Uppsala University but he declined, saying that he had mainly dealt with geometry, chemistry and metallurgy during his career.

      Wilkipedia

  15. 17 sam April 4, 2010 at 12:24 am

    the book is called hugo cabret and the robot was found in swittland

  16. 18 Nikki April 12, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Recently I went to see Derren Brown’s show, Svengali. Since the show I’ve been looking for further information about the automaton in the show – I was quite intrigued. In the show Derren refers to the doll as Svengali, but I don’t think this is the doll’s original name? – nothing comes up on google when I search for it.

    I’m annoyed that I can’t remember more as it was really interesting, but here’s what I do know:

    I know that it was created by a Hungarian man (can’t remember his name) after his son died, probably 18th century. He created the doll in the image of his son. He became obsessed with the doll, trying to make it a perfect replica, which eventually caused him to go blind.
    His obsession with the doll also drove his wife mad, who eventually comitted suicide, throwing herself into the Danube river.
    supposedly the doll consists of exactly 9889 mechanical pieces. It communicates by tapping out words on a board, and can supposedly read minds.

    This is all I know, can anyone help me? Thanks.

    Nikki

    • 19 Ben May 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm

      @Nikki

      It’s very likely that Derren made up the story for the show, especially as there seems to be no trace of it anywhere online

  17. 20 Jane February 25, 2012 at 5:45 am

    I think it’s based very loosely on Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. He did at one point make automaton, and his son helped in his show, prompted by the ringing of a bell. No death-mask, son automata or madness though!

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