Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Fake Automatic Chess Player

In 1809, during the Wagram campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte plays against the Automaton in Vienna and is defeated. The automaton was part of the private collection of Prince Eugène de Beauharnais for some time until it was acquired again by Maelzel in 1817.

Other exhibitions followed around the world. But in 1837, Maelzel and the Turk’s operator, Schlumberger, who was the guardian of Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant, died of yellow fever while returning from Havana to the United States.

Source: Badlydrawnjeff/Wikimedia Commons

The Mechanical Turk: A Mechanical Illusion

From 1770 until its destruction by fire in 1854, the Automaton was exhibited by various owners. However, it was eventually revealed to be an elaborate ingenious hoax.

Wolfgang von Kempelen designed, built and unveiled the automaton in 1770, in order to impress Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. The system seemed to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent. He also performed the Knight’s Tour, a puzzle that requires the player to move a knight to occupy each square on a chessboard exactly once.

The Mechanical Turk on the big screen

The story of the film and book about the Clockwork Turk connects a cast of historical figures, from Napoleon Bonapart, Ludvig van Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin and Edgar Allan Poe to the pioneers of the computer age. The screenplay offers an accessible way to examine the relationship between magic, man, spirit, and machine.

Inspiration for making the Turkish Mechanic

When Wolfgang von Kempelen attended an event at the court of Maria Theresa of Austria at Schönbrunn Palace, François Pelletier was performing an illusion number. von Kempelen was then inspired to build the automaton, as it was first called. The story goes that after a conversation von Kempelen had with Maria Theresia, he promised to return to the Palace with a personal invention that would surpass Pelletier’s illusions. And that’s exactly what he did.

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