Fig. 92 exhibits the outlines of an automaton, representing a swan, with suitably combined movements. The mechanism may be described, for the sake of clearness of explanation, under distinct heads. The first relates to the motion of the whole figure. By means of this part it swims upon the water, in directions changed from time to time without exterior agency. Another construction gives to the figure the faculty of bending its neck on several occasions, and to such an extent that it can plunge the bill and a portion of the head under water. Lastly, it is made to move its head and neck slowly from side to side. (84)The inside of the swan’s body is depicted as a series of interlocking and carefully numbered and lettered gears. Behind the duck extends a rudder, which helps it to swim. The neck, “the part which requires the most careful workmanship,” is shown as a series of interlinked triangles representing a steel spring (85).
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Edition and StateAndrew Ure’s A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines underwent numerous printings and editions. This image is taken from the 11th edition.
Printing ContextThis small print is an illustration (fig. 92, p. 84) to the dictionary entry on “Automaton” in Andrew Ure's A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines; containing a Clear Exposition of Their Principles and Practice. Eleventh American, from the last London Edition. To which is appended, a Supplement of Recent Improvements to the Present Time (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 200 Broadway. Philadelphia: Gorge S. Appleton, 148 Chestnut St., 1847): 83-86. The first edition of Ure’s Dictionary was published in London in 1839.
Associated TextsThere were several iterations of automaton swimming birds from the early eighteenth century to the nineteenth century. The three that have the most bearing on Ure’s version and this gallery are Maillard’s artificial swan (1733), Vaucauson’s duck (1738), and Cox’s silver swan (1773).
SubjectThis image is taken from the entry "Automaton" in Andrew Ure’s A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines (11th ed., 1847). It includes an illustration of an automaton swan, accompanied by an explanation of its mechanism.
Invention. Industrial capitalism. Illustrations. Automata. Mechanical. Birds.
SignificanceAndrew Ure’s version of the history and value of automata is significant for the narrative of progress it constructs. The detail with which he describes the swan automaton shows both the complexities of these objects and Ure’s own fascination with their mechanism. The first lines of his dictionary entry, which move from animal automata and clocks to wool factories and calico printing, also make clear his capitalist enthusiasms:
In the etymological sense, this word (self-working) signifies every mechanical construction which, by virtue of a latent intrinsic force, not obvious to common eyes, can carry on, for some time, certain movements more or less resembling the results of animal exertion, without the aid of external impulse. In this respect, all kinds of clocks and watches, planetariums, common and smoke jacks, with a vast number of the machines now employed in our cotton, silk, flax, and wool factories, as well as in our dyeing and calico printing works, may be denominated automatic. (83)As he soon emphasizes, this list is not a catalogue but a progression, and one that is traced throughout the Dictionary: “Very complete automata have not been made of late years, because they are very expensive; and by soon satisfying curiosity, they cease to interest. Ingenious mechanicians find themselves better rewarded by directing their talents to the self-acting machinery of modern manufactures” (83).
[t]he move from mere entertainment to threat is explicit in Jacques de Vaucanson’s work: the inventor of the clockwork duck that simulated excretion responded to the hostility of the silk workers whose livelihood was threatened by his construction of an automatic loom by making another machine, this time operated by a donkey. (Botting, para. 17; see also Riskin, “The Defecating Duck” 624-29)However, automata continued to be produced in abundance throughout the nineteenth century and cannot be seen solely as a stepping stone in the history of industrialization. Similarly, automata makers throughout the period often engineered and built mechanisms for diverse purposes—from luxury goods (Cox) and phantasmagoric spectacles (Maelzel) to medical apparatuses (Merlin, Adams), scientific investigations (Vaucauson, Kempelen), and industrial technologies (Vaucauson). The rhetoric of Ure’s text makes apparent the complex intersections of technology, mimesis, and labor in the Romantic period.