THE AUTOMATIC BRIDGET (1889) – Written by Howard Fielding (pen name of Charles Witherle Hooke). This was an early short story about a robot run amok.
A roving con man has been driven out of town after being exposed as a phony psychic. He hits a new town and poses as a wealthy New York City entrepreneur. While running this scam he cultivates a “friendship” with a farmer who confides in him that his late brother Jotham had invented a machine in the form of a woman.
The robot was designed to relieve women of the work of kneading dough, washing, sweeping and even child care. Our con man doesn’t believe for one minute that the machine-woman will actually work, but feels he can raise money from conned investors to finance production of such robots.
After all, the real-life John Worrell Keely had been defrauding investors for the past seventeen years with his phony motor which supposedly ran on plain water and vibrations. (Look up the Keely Motor Company if you’re curious.)
The con artist carries out his plan and bilks gullible investors of their money. As with Keely, our main character comes under pressure to show some results after a time, so he hires an engineer to construct a model robot based on the late Jotham’s schematics.
The resulting creation is displayed to stockholders. It is a three-legged, strong-armed womanoid robot called Bridget. When Bridget is activated, she malfunctions, rampaging through her surroundings.
After much destruction and mayhem, the android injures and even kills several bystanders before succumbing to self-destruction. The con man once again flees town to escape the consequences for the failed robot.
This tale came years before the 1890s short story The Automatic Maid, reviewed previously here at Balladeer’s Blog. The Automatic Bridget is generally light-hearted until the death and destruction at the end. In the later story nobody is killed when the robot runs amok, there is just damage to buildings.
The Automatic Bridget is no classic but is noteworthy for its historical significance and is short enough to read in minutes.
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