great robots & toys
from the space age

Retro Robots

1950s robots.

Above: two tin robots from the '50s. L to R: Hook robot is friction powered and displays lithographed gears in his torso. Atom robot has a crank to wind in the back which powers his famous bump'n'go motion.

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Robot Links

Retro Robots
R1 from Rocket USA
Robot Lilliput 1939

Above left:  Rocket USA launched a robot revival in the early 2000s with R1, patterned after the Masudaya battery-operated robots of the 1950s and '60s. Like them, he was a tin giant, towering over a foot high.

Above right: Recent Schylling repro of 1939 Lilliput wind-up robot, in green variant.

Trendmaster's Iron Giant
Pneuma, Tom Strong's butler

Above left: Trendmaster's Iron Giant is right at home in a steampunk environment. He looks vintage and modern at the same time.

Above right:  Pneuma, Tom Strong's butler.

Below: Six Masudaya wind-up repro robots, each about five inches tall. Each is patterned from '50s era battery-powered Masudaya robots, which were about a foot tall, and which rank among the most-sought robots by collectors. L to R: Target Robot; Radicon, the first radio-controlled robot; Lavender Robot; Machine Man; Shooting Giant (prototype, battery robot never produced); Train or Sonic Robot. These skirted robots are some of the most popular ever produced, and display many likable robot features: bright lithography and colors; chunky, massive shapes; well-proportioned and detailed. They combine features of the past and future. The well-made repro tin wind-ups have plastic pieces covering all of the tin tabs and joints, so unlike other tin toys, they are safe for kids. They were also imported to the US by Rocket USA.

gang of six robots
Masudaya robots

Robot Lilliput dates from the '30s. He is thus one of the few robots not inspired by the 1956 SF film, "Forbidden Planet", which introduced Robby, designed by Bob Kinoshita (who also designed Robot B-9 for "Lost in  Space"), thus influencing robot design forever.  The original walking, wind-up Lilliput robot was  15 cm high and orange. Schylling's repro editions came in large and small models, orange, blue, and the green variant shown here.

Beautiful lithography epitomized the robot revival of the '50s. The Waco/ Marubishi friction robot was known, as were so many others, as simply "Robot", distinguished by the beautiful, imaginative art on the box cover. He was nicknamed "Hook Robot" for the small hook riveted to his head, missing from this silver/blue variant.  The Yoshiya Atom Robot was unusual for being powered by a crank in back, which revved up a flywheel, resulting in the famous "bump'n'go action generally associated with Yoshiya's battery operated robots. The box calls him "Friction Powered Atom Robot with Mystery Crank Action".

Masudaya produced some of the most dazzling battery-powered robots of the '50s, which featured beautiful lithography and unique action.  These gorgeous, lithographed tinplate robots stood 38 cm (one inch = 2.54 cm), but were still often named simply "Robot" on the box.  Their scarcity makes them highly collectible. A rare model in excellent condition has gone for as much as $90,000 at auction. However, their real value lies elsewhere. The box art is still inspiring, the robot designs still intriguing. They still remind us of the best sense of the space age, of looking outward and forward, when everything seemed possible. They still ignite our childlike curiousity and spark our sense of wonder.

Trendmaster's gigantic Ultimate Iron Giant stood 20 inches tall, but could also be posed to sit down.  He was only available through the Warner Bros. studio store, as Toys R Us declined to order him for some of all of their stores, as they also neglected to stock the Trendmasters Classic Jupiter II and radio-controlled Robot B-9 from Lost in Space. Trendmasters sadly went out of business, and these classic designs instantly obtained collector stautus. The Iron Giant shows that a great robot can be made out of plastic. Trendmasters' Robby the Robot dates from the same period, and is equally collectible.

Brad Bird's film deviates substantially from the short kids' story, "The Iron Giant" by Britain's poet Laureate, Ted Hughs. The Warner Bros. film is in one way a parable about whether something designed for war can have peacetime uses, a question very much in the air in the robot eras of the '50s and '60s. In one way, Japan's thriving robot industry was the key to its post-war reconstruction, as well as helping to drive and inspire the space age in the US and the world. Even the name "Iron Giant" sounds retro and his design, although ostensibly from space, somewhat echoes the mechanical ages in the UK and US.

Pneuma is Tom Strong's butler in a comic book series created by writer Alan Moore and artist Chris Sprouse published by America's Best Comics, an imprint of DC Comics.  Of all the characters depicted here, he looks most at home with a background of mechanical gears. Pneuma is the root word of pneumatic, and Tom's robot butler is steam-powered, an idea explored in the Steampunk genre.

Numerous examples come to mind of how imaginative artists and designers brought into being the best styles and designs of their day to create innovative and imaginative robot designs. A treasure trove could still be created from the endlessly-inspiring worlds of Tom Swift, Tom Corbett, Dan Dare, and the legion of heroes and explorers of the spaceways (for more robot history see books in the Robot Store).

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