Bringing the 200-year-old clockwork boy back to life

Mysterious clockwork boy writes poems
Mysterious clockwork boy writes poems

    JUST WATCHED

    Mysterious clockwork boy writes poems

MUST WATCH

Mysterious clockwork boy writes poems 06:04

Story highlights

  • The 200-year-old mechanical boy can write poems and draw pictures
  • Charles Penniman first saw him as a boy
  • Today, he is caretaker for the automaton

The boy wears an expressionless porcelain face and holds his right arm outstretched.

Standing still, he could be a clothing store dummy. But crank the handle on the box below, and row after row of brass wheels begin to turn.

The 200-year-old boy lowers his pencil to write.

Guardian

The mechanical automaton sits in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA, writing his three poems in intricate, scrolling cursive -- as he has since Charles Penniman first set eyes on him over 75 years ago.

Penniman was six or seven years old then, he remembers, and was instantly transfixed by the way the revolving brass discs made the boy move with fluid, lifelike movements.

Now 85, Penniman is the boy's caretaker, and passes on the mechanism's secrets to the next generation.

The "Draughtsman-Writer," as the boy is known, is the most complex automaton of its kind.

Could this robot help disarm landmines?
Could this robot help disarm landmines?

    JUST WATCHED

    Could this robot help disarm landmines?

MUST WATCH

Could this robot help disarm landmines? 04:22
Could a robot will help sniper victims?
Could a robot will help sniper victims?

    JUST WATCHED

    Could a robot will help sniper victims?

MUST WATCH

Could a robot will help sniper victims? 02:47

Clockwork boy

It was created in London in the late 18th Century. But when it arrived at the Franklin Institute, the identity of its inventor was unknown.

Once set to work, the boy told all: "Written by the automaton of Maillardet" says a line traced along the edge of one of his ornamented poems.

Having left the workshop of Henri Maillardet, the famed Swiss clockmaker responsible for the bewildering mechanism inside the boy, the automaton's journey from London to Philadelphia is largely a mystery -- although it is known he toured Europe for a time.

Friendship

Now, at least, it has found a home with Penniman, who speaks fondly of his old friend.

After all these years, the bond is stronger than ever: "The longer I know him, the more respect I have for the mysteries of how he works."

Watch the video above to find out more about Charles Penniman and the clockwork automaton.