Future Friday: It’s a Robot!

The 1939-40 New York World’s Fair introduced many innovations to the public, such as fluorescent lighting and nylon, which have become important parts of daily life today. An oversized humanoid domestic robot named Roll-Oh is decidedly not one of them.







These production photos were taken on the set of the promotional film “Leave It to Roll-Oh”, sponsored by the Chevrolet Division of General Motors and shown at the Fair. Jam Handy Productions was a Detroit based industrial and training film maker that placed its indelible mark on “Leave It to Roll-Oh” and created many such shorts for General Motors in the 1930s and ‘40s. In the film, Roll-Oh is controlled by a push-button remote control, and performs such backbreaking work as picking up a hat and answering a door, leaving its female owner with time for more constructive tasks around the house like continuously rearranging flowers in a vase. The remote control may only have nine settings from which to choose, but they are as varied as “Fix Furnace”, “Answer Phone” and “SCRAM!” The fact that Roll-Oh’s foot functions as a vacuum cleaner and hand as a can opener is not evident from these images. It is unclear whether audiences at the time were aware that Roll-Oh was not in fact a fully realized “chromium plated butler”, but rather an actor stumbling about in a clumsily constructed suit.
To see more images of Roll-Oh, search our online collections.

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