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Wolfgang von Kempelen

Inventor

Born: 23 January 1734
Died: 26 March 1804
Birthplace: Pressburg, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia)
Best known as: Creator of 'the Turk'
Wolfgang von Kempelen built the Turk, a chess-playing automaton which wowed Europe late in the 1700s. The Turk consisted of a wooden cabinet topped by a carved life-size human figure dressed in a Turkish-style cape; to observers it seemed to be a machine which could somehow beat human opponents at chess. In reality the gadget was an elaborate trick: the cabinet's gears and machinery hid a human player, who played the game by moving the Turk's arms from inside the cabinet. Trickeration aside, Von Kempelen was also a scientist in the employ of the empress Maria Theresa; his non-hoax inventions included a "speaking machine," in which a bellows forced air through an artificial voice box to simulate human speech.
Extra credit: Von Kempelen was played in the 1938 movie The Chess Player (Le Joueur d'échecs) by actor Conrad Veidt -- who later played Major Strasser opposite Humphrey Bogart in the film Casablanca... Among those defeated by The Turk was author Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote an essay suggesting that the automaton contained a human player.

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