The Chess-Playing Clockwork Cabinet of 1770


In 1770, a nimble-minded inventor named Wolfgang von Kempelen unveiled an extraordinary machine he had built. It was a life-size mannequin seated behind a cabinet, atop of which sat a chessboard. After exposing the machine's innards to the audience (to prove that no human operator hid inside) and winding its spring, the machine sprang into action, and soundly beat a volunteer chess player from the audience. That was but its first victory of many. It went on to tour Europe, beating the large majority of players who challenged it, including some famous and skilled individuals such as Benjamin Franklin.