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Meet Monkbot

Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Monkbot is our affectionate nickname for a mechanical man commissioned by King Philip II of Spain almost 450 years ago. We tell the clockwork model's story in our Ghost Stories episode -- if you haven't heard it, take a listen while you check out these close-ups, and watch some silent footage of Monkbot in action:

A robe-less close-up of Monkbot -- his eyeballs and mouth move, along with his arms and feet, when he's wound up:

Rosamund Purcell

Monkbot's workings from behind -- notice his steering wheel / rudder:


A surprisingly creepy shot of Monkbot's insides:

Liz and David Todd work on Monkbot in 1999:

Murakami Kazuo

Some silent footage of Monkbot making his rounds:

A translucent model from the Smithsonian gives us x-ray vision:

Inside Monkbot's head:

Here's a diagram of the intricacies behind his eyes and jaw:

W. David Todd

Monkbot's feet!

A breakdown of the parts that power the stepping motion, and Monkbot's left arm:

W. David Todd

A portrait of Don Carlos, the prince whose illness led to Monkbot's creation:

Public Domain. Alonso Sánchez Coello / Public Domain via WikiMediaCommons

You can find more about Monkbot at Elizabeth King's website Clockwork Prayer, including the engraving she mentions of Don Carlos on his sickbed.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.


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Comments [10]

Just heard this podcast and saw the images on this website Beautiful piece of engineering and artistry by the clock maker. But the podcast participants sought too hard for a subtle meaning to the King's "creation." They missed the most obvious, serene and spiritually ironic intent of the King's pact with his maker;; to resurrect the revered monk in gratitude for all to see and remember even 400 years later - miracle for miracle.

Aug. 28 2016 09:34 AM
Bob White from Glen Ridge, NJ

Stephen L, I think you're looking for:

Oct. 04 2013 11:48 AM
Erik EJ

How could you not provide an image of the woodcutting showing them in bed together? Was it just considered too "risque"?

It seemed a seminal moment in the audio, and would have been a great edition here...

Sep. 29 2013 03:33 PM
Sara from SF-CA

Very cool story! Thanks for the great pics too.

Sep. 27 2013 07:35 PM
Kimberly Brown

As a catholic, I really do not believe that this is in anyway disrespectful. It is factual. The church was in the time of King Philip II steeped in ritual. It was also the hotbed of cruelty and violence. One only needs to read the details of the Inquisition to know that history.It remains steeped in ritual. This is a science program. They do not have to be overtly reverent to religious points of view. I did not hear them slam the religion.

Sep. 23 2013 06:00 PM

Look at Maillardet's Automaton on the Franklin Institute site. This one specialized in drawing pictures- like in the Hugo movie.

Sep. 23 2013 11:09 AM
martha from Hawaii

Fantastic! Great story. Thank you

Sep. 22 2013 05:23 AM

Mocking and disrespectful of Catholicm. Do any other religions--Budhism, Orthodox Judaism, have some extreme or wacky stories which could be guffawed about on NPR? Probs would offend your elitist donor base. Be fair in tone and facts please.

Sep. 21 2013 04:11 PM
Stephen Lepp from Verona, NJ

At the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, there was a device of this type.

A doll of a woman that would write out scripts. I don't remember the details, but the doll was about a foot high,seated at a table, holding a pen and would write a text. I was at the museum a few years ago, and it was not in operation. If anyone has details of this, would please send me information at


Stephen Lepp

Sep. 20 2013 12:51 PM

What a brilliantly meticulous mind must have been behind this.
What a wonderfully quirky idea.

The advanced model can be found in Douglas Adams' 'Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency,' btw. :)

Sep. 19 2013 05:09 AM

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