In 1893, Archibald Campion believed he created an invention that would “prevent the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations”: the Campion Mechanical Marvel, later to be known as Boilerplate the Victorian-Age robot. Constructed with the aid of close friends and inventors Edward Fullerton and Nikola Tesla, Boilerplate was unveiled during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that summer and fought in several major combat missions between the Spanish-American War in 1898 until its disappearance in 1918 on the battlefront of World War I.
Of course, Boilerplate never really existed except in Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett’s book Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel, published by Abrams Books last month. Based on an extensive website that had created and expanded upon the Boilerplate character since 2000, Boilerplate the book is an illustrated history of this Victorian curiosity, who fought in several wars, traveled from China to Saudi Arabia to the brink of the South Pole, and even had his own series of dime novels and silent movies.
My general reaction: the book was a joy to read. It's chock full of interesting historical details and many ingenuous illustrations, many of them cleverly manipulated to look like authentic images of the robot alongside familiar historical figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Lawrence of Arabia.
The book trailer for Boilerplate
What is just as interesting as these photos is the way Guinan and Bennett used Boilerplate’s story to highlight marginalized histories, emphasize the pursuit of social justice issues during that time period, and dispassionately narrate the full consequences of American expansionism.
( Cut for spoilers )
Boilerplate official website
Boilerplate Historical Society on Facebook