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Possessing an ill temperament, the Turk’s right arm extended parallel to the chessboard where its gloved, rigid hand tapped impatiently if the human opponent took too long to finish their turn.If an opponent proved thoroughly outmatched by the Turk, it would cheekily shake its head and mockingly roll its eyes. “Upon beating the game, he waves his head with an air of triumph, looks round complacently upon the spectators, and drawing his left arm farther back than usual, suffers his fingers alone to rest upon the cushion.” — Word spread like wildfire.As the American Revolution raged on across the pond, the robotically engineered, mustachioed Mechanical Turk toured Europe, and later the Americas.Like an Enlightenment-era Prometheus, the automaton chess player was allegedly a sensational, sentient thinking machine crafted by a royal servant with the android-like artifice of a mystic shaman from the Anatolian peninsula.Six months later, the debut of his phenomenal chess-playing exhibit took the palace of the Viennese royal court in a blitz of truly magical proportions.Von Kempelen presented the Turk as the genuine article.Automata had been around for centuries, littered throughout ancient Greek mythology and brought to life over the years.Innovations such as Leonardo da Vinci’s robotic knight and Jacques de Vaucanson’s Digesting Duck—which could be fed pellets and was subsequently capable of defecating—were created 30 years prior to the Turk.
No—that dubious distinction belongs to Wolfgang von Kempelen’s incredible 1769 creation, the Mechanical Turk.
In the fall of 1769, von Kempelen was invited by the Empress to provide a scientific perspective on a magician’s performance.
Unimpressed, von Kempelen boldly claimed that he could conjure up a superior illusion.
Lifting the Turk’s robe would reveal that the Turk existed as a simulacrum of the human form only from the waist up.
Embedded in the wood were several nooks which could be opened to display even more complex machinery that made up the Turk’s endoskeleton.In its time, the Turk defeated challengers as prolific as American Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin; Emperor of France, Napoléon Bonaparte; Emperor of Russia, Paul I; Empress of Russia, Catherine; and King of Prussia, Frederick the Great—talk about a king’s gambit!