Zadock Dederick

My dear Miss Glory, Robots are not people. They are mechanically more perfect than we are, they have an astounding intellectual capacity, but they have no soul.
Karel Capek

A photo of Steam Man of Zadoc Dederick and Isaac Grass
A photo of Steam Man of Dederick and Grass

In 1867 the young machinist from Newark, New Jersey, Zadock Pratt Dederick (1849-1923), along with Isaac Grass, created a steam-powered humanlike robot designed to pull a cart. The invention was patented on 24 March 1868 (see US patent Nr. 75874) and operated through a system of levers and cranks, attached to steam-powered pistons and a boiler. The original prototype cost $2000 (equivalent to some 41000 in 2023). Plans to produce it for $300 never went through, making this an example of an early development in steam power that was abandoned. Nonetheless, inventions such as this one spurred interest in steam power, as exemplified by novels such as The Steam Man of the Prairies, and by many imitations and hoaxes that appeared as a result.

In March 1868 the invention was exhibited in a house across from P. T. Barnum’s Broadway museum in New York and became very popular. It continued to be exhibited in 1869 in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The exhibitions were held back by insurance companies who continued to insist on safety precautions such as using slings to hold up the Steam Man and not allowing it to operate at full speeds. The demos continued until the autumn of 1870 when the Steam Man sank into obscurity. The machine was described many times in the press, let’s mention only: Newark (N.J.) Advertiser (23 January 1868), New York Express (21 March 1868), Popular Science Monthly, Scientific American (Vol 17. No. 5 p74 1868), etc. Let’s examine the article in Newark Advertiser:

Mr. Zadock Deddrick, a Newark machinist, has invented a man; one that, moved by steam, will perform some of the most important functions of humanity; that will, standing upright, walk or run as he is bid, in any direction, and at almost any rate of speed, drawing after him a load whose weight would tax the strength of three draught horses. The history of this curious invention is as follows: Six years ago Mr. Deddrick, the inventor, who is at present but twenty-two years of age, conceived the novel idea of constructing a man that should receive its vitality from a perpetual motion machine. The idea was based on the well-known mechanical principle that, if a heavy weight be placed at the top of an upright slightly inclined from vertical, gravitation will tend to produce a horizontal as well as vertical motion. The idea was unsuccessful. However, by observing carefully the cause of failure, persevering and perfecting the man-form, and by substituting steam in place of the perpetual motion machine, the present success was attained.

A drawing of Steam Man of Zadock Dederick and Isaac Grass
A drawing of Steam Man by Zadock Pratt Dederick and Isaac Grass

The man stands seven feet and nine inches high, the other dimensions of the body being correctly proportioned, making him a second Daniel Lambert, by which name he is facetiously spoken of among the workmen. He weighs five hundred pounds. Steam is generated in the body or trunk, which is nothing but a three-horse power engine, like those used in our steam fire engines. The legs which support it are complicated and wonderful. The steps are taken very naturally and quite easily. As the body is thrown forward upon the advanced foot the other is lifted from the ground with a spring and thrown forward by the steam. Each step or pace advances the body two feet, and every revolution of the engine produces four paces. As the engine is capable of making more than a thousand evolutions a minute, it would get over the ground, on this calculation, at the rate of a little over a mile a minute. As this would be working the legs faster than would be safe on uneven ground or on broad street cobble stones, it is proposed to run the engine at the rate of five hundred revolutions per minute, which would walk the man at the modest speed of half a mile a minute.

An ad for Steam Man from February 1869
An ad for Steam Man from February 1869

The fellow is attached to a common rockaway carriage, the shafts of which support him in a vertical position. These shafts are two bars of iron, fastened in the usual manner to the front of the carriage, and are curved so as to be joined to a circular sustaining bar, which passes around the waist, like a girth, and in which the man moves so as to be faced in any direction. Besides these motions, machinery has been arranged by which the figure can be thrown backward or forward from a vertical nearly forty-five degrees. This is done in order to enable it to ascend or descend all grades. To the soles of the feet spikes or corks are fixed, which effectually prevent slipping. The whole affair is so firmly sustained by the shafts and has so excellent a foot-hold, that two men are unable to push it over, or in any way throw it down. In order to enable it to stop quickly it is provided with two appliances, one of which will, as before stated, throw it backward from the vertical, while the other bends the knees in a direction opposite to the natural position.

An upright post, which is arranged in front of the dash-board, and within easy reach of the front seats, sustains two miniature pilot wheels, by the turning of which these various motions and evolutions are directed. It is expected that a sufficiently large amount of coal can be stowed away under the back seat of the carriage to work the engine for a day, and enough water in the tank under the front seat to last half a day.

In order to prevent the “giant” from frightening horses by its wonderful appearance Mr. Deddrick intends to clothe it and give it as nearly as possible a likeness to the rest of humanity. The boiler, and such parts as are necessarily heated, will be encased in felt and woolen undergarments. Pantaloons, coat and vest, of the latest styles, are provided. Whenever the fire needs coaling, which is every two or three hours, the driver stops the machine, descends from his seat, unbuttons “Daniel’s” vest, opens a door, shovels in the fuel, buttons up the vest and drives on. On the back, between the shoulders the steam cocks and gauges are placed. As these would cause the coat to set awkwardly, a knapsack has been provided that completely covers them. A blanket, neatly rolled up and placed on top the knapsack, perfects the delusion. The face is molded into a cheerful countenance of white enamel, which contrasts well with the dark hair and mustache. A sheet iron hat with a gauge top acts as a smoke stack.

The cost of this “first man” is $2,000, though the makers, Messrs. Deddrick & Grass, expect to manufacture succeeding ones, warranted to run a year without repair, for $300. The same parties expect to construct, on the same principle, horses which will do the duty of twelve ordinary animals of the same species. These, it is confidently believed, can be used alike before carriages, street cars and plows. The man now constructed can make his way without difficulty over any irregular surface whose ruts and stones are not more than nine inches below or above the level of the road.

Biography of Zadock Dederick

Zadock (also spelled as “Zadoc”) Pratt Dederick was born on 8 August 1849 in Hensonville, Greene County, New York, USA. He was the son of William Henry Dederick (1806-1870) and Harriet (Bailey) Dederick (1819-1857). Zadock had a sister—Eleanor (1841-1902), and two brothers—Henry Stanley (1842-1918) and Ethan E. (1852-1854).

In the 1868 issue of Newark City Directory, Zadoc P. Dederick is mentioned as a patternmaker, residing at 87 Spring St. in Newark, NJ. The Steam Man of Dederick from the late 1860s never turned into a business success and in 1876 he removed to Sherman, Texas, and founded The Dederick Well Machine Works which manufactured well drilling machinery for the burgeoning oil industry and other uses. While in Texas, he used to work for many years as a patent attorney, and after the 1868 patent for Steam Man, he took two other US patents (Nr. 599074 from 15 Feb. 1898 for Acetylene-Gas Generator, and Nr. 845765 from 5 March 1907 for Automatic Mail and Parcel Delivery Apparatus).

Zadock was married three times: first, to Mary Elizabeth Fleming (1850-1881) of Mississippi, and they had three sons and a daughter. After the early death of Mary in 1881, in 1891 Zadock married Flora Bernard from Indiana (1873-), and they had three daughters. It seems Flora also died young at the end of the 1890s, because in 1900 Zadock married Ada Cole (1878–1953) of Missouri, and they had two sons and three daughters. Zadock Dederick died on 22 February 1923 (aged 73) in Sherman, Texas.