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To my surprise, I read that the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz is a cyborg. From Wikipedia:

In the books, the origins of the character are rather gruesome. Originally an ordinary man by the name of Nick Chopper (the name first appearing in The Marvelous Land of Oz), the Tin Woodman used to make his living chopping down trees in the forests of Oz, as his father had before him. The Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his axe to prevent him from marrying the girl that he loved. The enchanted axe chopped off his limbs, one by one. Each time he lost a limb, Nick Chopper replaced it with a prosthetic limb made of tin. Finally, nothing was left of him but tin. However, Ku-Klip, the tinsmith who helped him, neglected to replace his heart. Once Nick Chopper was made entirely of tin, he was no longer able to love the girl he had fallen for.

Is this the first example of a fictional cyborg?

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    Define cyborg. Cybernetics is a broad term, and I've heard everything from Cochlear Implants, down to using a fork, as being considered being a Cyborg. – DampeS8N Dec 7 '11 at 18:03
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    I would define a cyborg as a person who has been permanently transformed into part machine that can achieve some sort of "super human" feet. I think the permanence of the mechanical parts are important. The parts must be sophisticated mechanical devices, not simply an implant of metal to fix a leg. The "super human feets" could be something as simple as walking with Lou Gehrig's disease. So for example Stephen Hawking is not a cyborg, because his motorized cart is not permanently affixed to his body. The fact that he can move even though he has advanced Lou Gehrig's is "super human". – Caimen Dec 9 '11 at 19:27
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If we are considering functional prostheses, then they go back to before written history, notable Nuada Argetlam (literally, "Silver Arm"), a legendary Irish king. Since all rulers had to be complete and fully functional, he is in danger of losing his throne upon losing an arm, but has a silver one made to replace it. http://www.pantheon.org/articles/n/nuada.html

  • Accepted this one, since it looks like the oldest true cyborg. – Wikis Dec 9 '11 at 11:09
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    This is true as far as the 'earliest' for sure. I never know where to draw the line between fiction and legend, though. – Mark Beadles Mar 4 '12 at 21:57
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    +1 for teaching me that Christopher Paolini stole the name "Argetlam" = "silver-hand" as well as so much else in his Inheritance novels. – Rand al'Thor Dec 13 '15 at 21:43
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The earliest cyborg reference I could find was from the 1839 short story "The Man That Was Used Up" by Edgar Allen Poe. The cyborg in question is Brevet Brigadier General John A. B. C. Smith. From the Wikipedia summary:

When [the narrator] visits the General's home, he sees nothing but a strange bundle of items on the floor. The bundle, however, begins to speak. It is the General himself, and his servant begins to "assemble" him, piece by piece. Limbs are screwed on, a wig, glass eye, and false teeth, and a tongue, until the man himself stands "whole." The General has lost more than battles, it seems: he was captured and severely mutilated by Native American warriors and now much of his body is composed of prostheses, which must be put in or on every morning and without which he cannot appear in public.

A few decades later, the 1879 short story "The Ablest Man in the World" by Edward Page Mitchell goes beyond mere artificial limbs. In it, Baron Savitch, who is mute and retarded, is given a clockwork brain by Dr. Rapperschwyll which allows him to become a successful politician.

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    I was beginning to think I was the only person that even knew of that story. – Tango Dec 7 '11 at 16:39
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    Tik-Tok, however, is often considered the first robot in modern literature. – thedaian Dec 7 '11 at 16:44
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    Excellent idea, but the link that you've provided refers to an even older story: "The story bears a resemblance to "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed," a satiric poem by Jonathan Swift from 1731. Both works depict grotesquely artificial bodies: Swift's poem features a young woman preparing for bed by deconstructing, while Poe's story features an old man reconstructing himself to begin his day." – Wikis Dec 7 '11 at 16:45
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    It should be noted that it is not necessary to have any brain to become a successful politician; in fact, it seems that having one would be detrimental to a political career. – zzzzBov Dec 7 '11 at 18:09
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    @zzzzBov: I knew the moment I typed that last line that someone was gonna make that comment. ;) – gnovice Dec 7 '11 at 18:29
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I'm not sure if they would fit your definition of cyborg but there are such things as the Golem from Hebrew/Kaballah writings (sometime BC) and the Homunculus from Zosimos of Panopolis (~300 AD). Then there's King Mu of Zhou and his Automaton (1023-957 BC). Aristotle in his Politics speculated about what rights should be afforded and drew this idea from contemporaneous myths about Daedalus and Hephaestus (322 BC).

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    I think Golems and Automatons would be considered more like androids and robots, not having any original human/biological component but instead modeled after humans (i.e. ersatz lifeforms). – gnovice Dec 7 '11 at 21:15
  • @gnovice - Zosimos does include a transformation from man into Homunculus, not unlike the Tin Man. The others, as you noted, are probably more along the lines of robots although some versions of the stories include human components (blood, spirit etc) as an essential part of the automaton. – jfrankcarr Dec 8 '11 at 1:00
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    @jfrankcarr: the difference is that in Zosimos' version, the homunculi are created through alchemical transformation. They're humans that have been turned into bronze/lead/etc. So they contain no mechanical parts. – Lèse majesté Dec 8 '11 at 3:36

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