Humans have long been fascinated with mechanical devices that mimic human and animal behavior; the simplest date back to medieval times, and they were frequently used to provide entertainment at royal courts. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inventors had created a range of automata, including automatic flute players, jugglers, singing birds, mechanical theatres and puppet shows, and all manner of animated clocks. Like many other showmen in Europe and America, Barnum recognized automata’s popular combination of science and illusion. While not exhibited at the American Museum, this automaton writer was created by Swiss clockmaker Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz and first displayed in 1774. With pad, pen, and inkwell, this automaton was capable of writing any phrase of up to 40 letters.
Source: Mary Hillier, Automata and Mechanical Toys: An Illustrated History (London: Jupiter Books, 1976)