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When was the first 'walker' in Sci-fi or Fantasy?

By walker I mean a robotic vehicle that moves via walking (ambulating with more than two feet) as opposed to moving via wheels.

It seems like it would be from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, but I can't be sure.

Martian tripod illustration from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, by Henrique Alves Corrêa.  The tripod stands on 3 long, multijointed widely-spread legs with a blunt cylindrical main body divided in two with a short, narrow portion below to which the legs attach and a wider, taller part above with 2 large eye-ports and grasping tentacles, one of which is firing the heat ray forward, off-screen to the left.  The walker has a wide shallow conical "hat" and blunt screw-like appendage below the main body.  The walker is striding down a hillside and stepping into a river; in the foreground is a partially beached steam-powered paddlewheeler and a crowd of people.  Through the smoke in the background another walker is standing up.

This illustration is from 1902.

The current earliest 'walker' is the Steam elephant from 1880. I'm awarding the bounty soon so unless someone gets in with anything earlier It's going to that.

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    So a follow-up question I have: when you say "vehicle", does that imply that passengers must ride in it or just on it? Mar 14 '12 at 19:43
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    I would say in it. Something that resembles a Mecha, where you travel and interact with the world through this vehicle. I'm not 100% on how to convey that properly in the question.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Mar 14 '12 at 19:56
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    Either way I think I found an interesting tale by Jules Verne which involved a mechanical walking elephant with a turret. Mar 14 '12 at 20:28
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    Hey @MarkBeadles, that was in my answer already! :P Though you added a great quote and picture to it - valuable, more comprehensive details.
    – Josh
    Mar 14 '12 at 20:50
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    I gave the accept to the best (read most detailed) answer, but the bounty to the one who responded to it first. Thanks!
    – AncientSwordRage
    Mar 20 '12 at 18:33
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Jules Verne's 1880 La maison à vapeur (English: The Steam House) has a mechanical walking vehicle in the shape of an elephant that men could ride within: the Steel Giant (le géant d'acier)

En tête, et comme unique moteur du convoi, un éléphant gigantesque, haut de vingt pieds, long de trente, large à proportion, s'avançait tranquillement et mystérieusement. Sa trompe était à demi recourbée, comme une énorme corne d'abondance, la pointe en l'air. Ses défenses, toutes dorées, se dressaient hors de son énorme mâchoire, semblables à deux faux menaçantes. Sur son corps d'un vert sombre, bizarrement tacheté, se développait une riche draperie de couleurs voyantes, rehaussée de filigranes d'argent et d'or, que bordait une frange de gros glands à torsades. Son dos supportait une sorte de tourelle très ornée, couronnée d'un dôme arrondi à la mode indienne, et dont les parois étaient pourvues de gros verres lenticulaires, semblables aux hublots d'une cabine de navire.

In front, and as the sole engine of the train, a giant elephant, twenty feet high, thirty long, broad in proportion, advanced quietly and mysteriously. His trunk was half bent like a huge cornucopia, the point in the air. Its defenses, all gilded, stood outside his massive jaws like two menacing scythes. On his body a dark green, oddly spotted, developed into a rich drapery of bright colors, embellished with silver filigree and gold, bordered by a fringe of large twisted tassels. His back bore a sort of ornate turret, crowned by a dome rounded in the Indian fashion, and whose walls were equipped with large lenticular lenses, like the portholes of a ship's cabin.

The Steel Giant strides into a river, trunk held high and spouting fire and a domed turret projecting from its back.  In the foreground an elephant (presumably real) cavorts in the water with others nearby.  The hillside behind the Steel Giant is covered by a thick mass of elephants.

Of course I should have known Verne would come up with something like that!


More recently, there was also L. Frank Baum's Saw-horse from the Oz stories, first appearing in 1904, so it doesn't quite predate H.G. Wells.

The saw-horse looks very much like its namesake, with 4 straight cylindrical legs, and a thicker log-like body, but the near end is longer, extending past the front legs, bends like a neck, and has a split across the end like a mouth.  A knot shapes an eye, and 2 protuberances form ears.  It has a twig-like tail.

Baum was quite ahead of his time: he also had not only an early cyborg (the Tin Woodman) but one of the first android robots (Tik-Tok)


Walking further back in time, I think that the original genesis for this may have been Baba Yaga's 'hut on fowl's legs', but that's legend or fairy tale, not fantasy.

Baba Yaga's hut is portrayed her in a slightly surrealistic watercolour with 2 legs - more human in shape and joints than fowl - with three-toed clawed feet attached to the base of a small rectangular wooden structure with a peaked roof.


Strangely - real four-legged walking robots for carrying humans predate H.G. Wells - such as this reference from 1843.

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    I think the walker from WotW predates even this...
    – AncientSwordRage
    Mar 4 '12 at 20:00
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    Yeah, you're right. But I just love Oz. Mar 4 '12 at 20:04
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    Actually, the Tin Woodsman wasn't the first cyborg. Earlier ones are covered in this question.
    – gnovice
    Mar 4 '12 at 20:58
  • @gnovice Interesting, thanks! The Poe cyborg is definitely earlier, though I don't quite buy the "silver arm" as being an earlier example. Cool though. Mar 4 '12 at 21:56
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+50

If you accept that mythology fits within the realm of science fiction/fantasy, and replication of known creatures (on 4 legs) meets the criteria. The earliest I can find based on recollection would be the bronze bulls (Khalkotauroi) created by Hephaestus and used in Jason's trials for the Golden Fleece.

While first recorded in the Argonautica, another source offers expansions alternate translations which compound the mythos.

The above doesn't meet the direct requirement of a vehicle (though in pulling a tractor, it could be part of a whole?)


I wasn't familiar with this story myself, however Wikipedia's Mecha page also recounts a mechanical, steam powered elephant in Jules Verne's The Steam House which also uses a common animal as a beast of burden to pull an object (the house/carriage).


WotW's tripod's do seem to be a unique re-envisioning of travel.

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  • Glad to see you got the bounty, Josh, since you did have the Jules Verne mention. Mar 20 '12 at 18:28

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