Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mechanical Madness

Who invented a device to remove gravy stains from gravel paths? Or a machine for pulling Christmas crackers? Or a system for eating peas without the use of either knife or fork? These were all the brain children of William Heath Robinson - and none was intended to work.

Born in London in 1872, Heath Robinson was an inspired cartoonist who satirised machines instead of people. He specialised in drawing plans for elaborate but useless machinery, involving a wealth of pulleys and levers connected with knotted string. These bizarre contraptions were mostly 'labour-saving' devices that involved far more labour than a straightforward way of achieving the same result. Their ingenuity was matched only by their total impracticality.

His masterpiece was probably the miniature house he built in 1934 for the Ideal Home exhibition in London. Its occupiers, a staid middle-class couple, descended to breakfast on ropes through trapdoors in the ceiling. As they landed on their chairs, their weight depressed springs that put a record on a radiogram and squeezed milk from a concertina to feed the cat. In the nursery, a machine powdered the baby's bottom.

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