Despite his penchant for smoking and shameless flirting, the country’s oldest robot turns 75 this year. ELEKTRO, built by the Mansfield-based Westinghouse Electric Corp., was created to transform American homes. The walking, talking, cigarette-smoking robot debuted at the 1939 New York Worlds’ Fair. Constructed from aluminum, ELEKTRO was expected to revolutionize homemakers’ lives. His creators promised the 7.5-foot robot would take over the laundry, cooking and cleaning duties in American households. ELEKTRO is now on permanent public display at the Mansfield Memorial Museum in Mansfield, Ohio.
Moto-Man, as ELEKTRO was nicknamed, amazed audiences by telling jokes, counting on his fingers and identifying colors. In his monotone monologue, he bragged that he was “a smart fellow” with a “very fine brain.” Audiences loved him. They were awed as he smoked cigarettes and blew up balloons. They laughed appreciatively when he referred to his handler as “Toots” and remarked about the “good numbers in the audience.” ELEKTRO spent much of the late 1940s and ’50s performing at appliance stores. Later, Westinghouse sent him to an amusement park in California, where he was displayed with a replica submarine the company had built.
Eventually, Hollywood called. ELEKTRO played the role of the robot Thinko in the 1960 film “Sex Kittens Go to College,” which also stared Mamie Van Doren and Tuesday Weld. After his movie appearance, ELEKTRO disappeared until Mansfield Memorial Museum Director Scott Schaut teamed up with the son of one of ELEKTRO’s creators to find, restore and display the robot. ELEKTRO now has a place of honor at the museum, where he is surrounded by Westinghouse memorabilia and mementos of his early days. ELEKTRO was one of a series of robots built by Westinghouse just prior to WWII. The company, which stopped production of the robots during the war and never resumed it, envisioned creating robots for household use.
Founded in 1889, the Mansfield Memorial is the oldest museum in Richland County. ELEKTRO is just one unique element of the museum’s collection. Other displays include an unusual Victorian taxidermy display and artifacts from Roman to modern times, including collections of early Native American, African, Asian, military and natural history items.
Mansfield and Richland County, Ohio, offers a wealth of unusual travel adventures and experiences, such as visiting the working farm where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married to spending the night in a haunted former state prison where Hollywood blockbuster movies are filmed. Breathtaking scenery, rural and hometown experiences, as well as hiking, biking, golf, cross-country and downhill skiing, bird watching and loads of other outdoor adventures attract families and visitors of all ages. Complete visitor information and a free visitors guide, is available by calling 800-642-8282 or online at www.MansfieldTourism.com or MansfieldTourism.com/mobile.
Mansfield Memorial Museum, 34 Park Ave. West in Mansfield, Oh, 419-525-2491, www.themansfieldmuseum.com.