North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Fact or fiction? Robot's history is mingled with ours


February 10, 2010

Boilerplate cover

Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel

By Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett

($24.95, Abrams)

Professor Archibald Campion invented a robot named Boilerplate in 1893. As a youth, he had been profoundly affected by the death of his sister's husband, who was like an older brother to him, in the Korean War. It was Archie's dedicated purpose to invent a substitute warrior to prevent this happening to anyone else.

Once completed, the robot Boilerplate was a featured attraction in the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, at the 1893 World's Fair. Following this exposure, Professor Campion was invited to bring Boilerplate to many places around the world, which include episodes in time that we may be familiar with, although not with the particular events noted.

This wonderful coffee-table book is replete with historical trivia. The album is intriguing for the presentation of those pieces of history not widely known. We're shown people picnicking at Bull Run, where they expected to witness an entertaining scramble of soldiers of opposing causes rather than a serious battle. While these historical events did occur, they are not part of our history textbooks; but it is this trivia that enlivens and humanizes history.

Here is the caveat: What about this is truth and what is fabrication? The authors have blended this robot into history. While the book is wonderful to read and absorb, readers could believe that it is all fact. I confess that I had to do an online search to ensure that I wouldn't mislead readers of this review. When I found that both Archibald Campion, the inventor, and Boilerplate, the robot, had trademark notations on their names, I realized that I was wise to seek the truth rather than flaunt this book as fact.

Mary Burns

But it is still a remarkable book, with historical facts that are fascinating. And so what if Boilerplate was just inferred into each scene? He caused me to pay attention to a history in which others participated. This is a book worth owning.

Mary Burns is the owner of The BookWORKS, located at 1510 Third Street, downtown Marysville, 360.659.4997, or online at Comments or requests are welcome at


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