Dan and Jay Perform at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City

Hoping to reinvigorate their act and the world’s awareness of it, Dan and Jay’s Comedy Hour partnered with Westinghouse and Bell Labs to bring back their great-grandfather’s pioneering invention, Praxedes, the world’s first comedy automaton.  They presented the concept to both companies in an effort to start a bidding war, the end of which would have resulted in a mechanically-sophisticated puppet show.  Instead, both companies were so enticed by the concept that they co-authored the project of Praxedes III, integrating parts of Westinghouse’s Elektro, the Mechanical Man and Bell Labs’ Voder technology, which used electronics to synthesize somewhat human-seeming sounds.

After an impressive three-week build, Bell and Westinghouse had, using polyurethane foam and high-grade plastics, built a working prototype for Praxedes III, with pre-programmed responses that came from an unnatural-sounding, but inevitably fascinating, Voder voice unit.  Praxedes III outer shell was made with wood, painted to look like skin, and much to Dan and Jay’s surprise, he was a comfortable addition to the act.  Having spent much of the money they had intended to pocket in advance, though, they stayed on for the length of the World’s Fair, selling homemade merchandise to make up for the lost income, and participating in demonstrations for early televisions.

After the World’s Fair, they were permitted to take Praxedes III with them on the road, but he was kept in storage for many years, and has fallen into considerable disrepair.  What remains is his head and shoulders (the rest of him was a man’s suit stuffed with straw and leaves, much of which has rotted and left the archive), though the voicebox and head-moving mechanism are currently in non-working order.

Praxedes III

Author: Jay