The curious case of Sparko the robot Scottie dog


This tale of a Westinghouse Scottish Terrier robot gone missing comes via the Pasta & Vinegar blog.

The story, according to the Cleveland Free Times, begins in 1918 in Mansfield, Ohio a small hamlet south of Canton, where a Westinghouse plant manufactured electric appliances that were, at first, slow to catch on.

Early in the 20th century, light bulbs were for public buildings and business. Well-to-do families had generators in their carriage houses, but this extravagance was too expensive for the average citizen. Companies hoping to trade in this new technology had to dream up ways to convince consumers that they wanted and needed appliances.

In 1924, Westinghouse commissioned engineers to create the world’s first robots. Their names borrowed from a Czech word, robota — meaning slave — these mechanical men were elaborate marketing tools, pitching a better future through electricity, one in which machines toiled while humans simply enjoyed life. They were designed by J.M. Barnett … (whose) final design was a … a robotic dog named Sparko, modeled after a friend’s Scottish Terrier.

“Beg for a hotdog,” Elektro (the robot master) commanded in front of an audience at the World’s Fair in 1940. Sparko rolled onto his haunches, barked, and opened his mouth. Elektro and his dog became emissaries of a fantastic future that never came.

While the remains of Elektro have been found, his three pet Sparkos have yet to show up.

The last confirmed Sparko sighting is around the time Elektro left for California in 1957. No pictures of the dogs have been seen since.

One persistent rumor involving the death of a single Sparko illustrates just how dog-like this robot actually was. Sparko’s eyes were photoelectric cells that propelled the animal toward any light source. As the story goes, an engineer at Westinghouse left a door open one night, and a Sparko was drawn to the street by passing headlights. The robot-dog was hit by a car on Park Avenue.

“Sparko is in one of two places,” says Jack. “Either he’s in a scrap pile in some junkyard, or he’s in a box in someone’s basement or garage. Maybe someone’s grandfather brought some boxes home from Westinghouse and now nobody has a recollection of what’s inside. I mean, what would you do if you opened a box with an aluminum dog in it?”

Blueprints for Sparko have never been found. It seems his construction was done in haste. “I don’t think they even made prints,” says Jack. “I think they just threw him together.”

Jack believes at least one Sparko still lives in Mansfield. After he ran want ads in the local paper, Jack heard from several people claiming they saw Sparko at a garage sale. Now he constantly seeks out yard sales to see if the dog is being sold with old lamps and toasters. He asks people to search their basements for a Westinghouse box that weighs about 70 pounds…With luck, one day soon Weeks will arrive with another box, this one containing a silver dog. Then, (Jack) can rest easy.

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