Jaquet-Droz Automata – Neuchâtel, Switzerland - Atlas Obscura

Jaquet-Droz Automata

Musée d'Art et d'Histoire of Neuchâtel
Neuchâtel, Switzerland

These magnificent 240-year-old machines are considered distant ancestors of the computer. 


Pierre Jaquet-Droz was an 18th century watchmaker who decided to build automata (animated dolls) as a marketing ploy to sell the watches and mechanical birds that were the real bread and butter of his firm. 

Along with his son Henri-Louis and his partner Jean-Frédéric Leschot, Jaquet-Droz built three dolls that have survived history and still astound and intrigue people today; The Musician, The Draughtsman, and the most impressive and complex of the three, The Writer. Housed in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, the three automatons are started up on the first Sunday of every month to the delight of museum-goers of all ages.

These mechanical wonders are considered by many to be the early ancestors of our modern-day computers, with The Writer being the most complicated of the three. The programmable machine is wound up with a crank, and with a moving head and blinking eyes, proceeds to write 40 letters of text, which can be customized to anything the operator wishes, dipping his quill into an ink well between words. With over 6,000 parts, The Writer is as close to a computer as the 1770’s would see.

The other two may not be as complicated, but are equally delightful to watch. The dainty Musician is the only female, and plays the organ. Her chest rises and falls with breath, and as she balances her torso and plays a tune, her head and eyes move about in mechanical life. The Draughtsman is a child, blowing dust off of his pencil as he sketches his four images; a dog, Cupid driving a butterfly-harnassed chariot, a royal couple and a portrait of Louis XV.

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