Jacques de Vaucanson and his mechanical digesting duck

As well as constructing automatons such as “The Flute Player” (“Powered by nine bellows, this mechanical wooden man could play 12 different melodies on the flute. A metal tongue regulated air passing through the lips and gloved, wooden fingers covered the holes in the flute as required by the melody.”) and “The Tambourine Player”, the 18th century’s polymath Jacques de Vaucanson (1709-1782) constructed a mechanical digesting duck. It could quack, flap its wings, “eat”, “digest” grain, and “drink”. The duck “sat on an enormous base housing the mechanics, and was life-sized, constructed of hundreds of parts covered in perforated gold-plated copper to allow a view of the inside workings. When activated, it moved like a duck, wiggling its beak in the water, quacking, and re-adjusting its position. Most famously though, it could eat pellets offered to it, and then, after “digestion”, poop them out the other end.” Voltaire was apparently impressed, and wrote, “Without Vaucanson’s Duck, you have nothing to remind you of the glory of France.”

More about the incontinent duck here and here.

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