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Author Topic: Origins of the 'Steampunk Mechanical Arm'  (Read 1381 times)
Captain Shipton Bellinger
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« on: December 02, 2011, 01:10:57 pm »

The mechanical prosthetic arm is well-recognised as a theme in steampunk, so much so that it almost rivals the more popular brass goggles as a sort of visual shorthand for 'Steampunk'. Look at any vaguely steampunk-related site on the Ætherwebs or, indeed, take part in any major gathering of steampunks and sooner or later you will probably see somebody sporting a prosthetic arm of brass and leather.

I have been wondering where this particular meme originated. The earliest occurrence I have yet found is in the comic entitled Steampunk, published in the year 2000. In this unfinished series Cole Blaquesmith, the hero, has his right arm and heart replaced with powerful steam-powered mechanical devices, requiring his boiler to be regularly stoked in order to stay conscious.

Bearing in mind that this comic was published only three years after Jeter coined the term 'Steampunk' and long before the name had become widely used, is this the first known use of the mechanical prosthetic arm in a steampunk context?

I would be really very interested in any earlier sightings, so it's now over to the Brass Goggles collective mind to find earlier examples...

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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2011, 05:02:50 pm »

I actually have a copy of a Victorian song sheet (c.1850) about a Napoleonic Wars veteran who loses his arm and has a steam arm made to replace it.   Unfortunately only the words seem to have survived since the sheets were sold to audience goers so they could sing along and of course they did not get the score.

I would love to share the words but for the moment a well known band have them for setting to music and I would hate them to blame me for letting the cat out of the bag.  Grin

Of course this does not answer your question at all as far as steampunk is concerned but may illustrate that the idea is far from a new one.

May I politely point out though that Jeter coined the term steampunk in 1987 - if the comic you are referring to was published in 2000 as you state that is actually 13 years later, not three.

I too keenly await earlier sightings of the steampunk prosthetic arm.
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Matthias Gladstone
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2011, 05:07:41 pm »

Could it also be the association with piracy? As pirates are often depicted with wooden legs - is the mechanical arm just the steampunk evolution of that?
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« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2011, 06:46:27 pm »

Also perhaps post-apocalyptic interpretations of steampunk lend themselves to the idea of losing limbs in explosive catastrophes, and an arm is simply easier to render mechanically than a leg.

Why it's become so iconic...not sure. Because it looks cool?  Grin
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akumabito
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« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2011, 06:51:18 pm »

I think we need a Steampunk Historical Society or Ministry of Antiquities to find the answers to such questions.. Grin
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walkthebassline
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« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2011, 07:34:21 pm »

Anyone here need a Thesis project? That could fit the bill.
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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2011, 08:10:01 pm »

I also think the concept of antiquated Cyber style has played a big part here. A big influence coming from comics, books and video games. It's been ages since I read 2000 AD for example, but I seem to recall there were augmented human characters along with the robots. Oh and Claw Carver of course who had a Tyrannosaurus claw for a hand (I haven't seen that one done yet), and I'm really showing my age lol.

One of the characters from Final Fantasy has a mini gun arm. It all fits in with the retrofuturistic Sci Fi idea, and lets face it, given that Steampunk is based on Victorian era Sci Fi, there are a lot of Science Fiction fans developing it.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2011, 10:56:04 pm by Argus Fairbrass » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2011, 08:29:47 pm »

Mechanical and electronic augmentation of the human form is a major theme of cyberpunk, so the origins of the steam prostetic as an idea is probably a cross pollination of the two genres, after all what could be a fairly subtle sub-dermal inplant in the near future of cyberpunk, would be a monsterous conjunction of steam and gears in the world of steampunk.
Although that does not put a date on the concept, if correct, (A big if, I know,) it would put the possible origins of the idea fairly early, almost contemporary with early cyberpunk.
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Captain Shipton Bellinger
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« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2011, 10:24:57 pm »

I actually have a copy of a Victorian song sheet (c.1850) about a Napoleonic Wars veteran who loses his arm and has a steam arm made to replace it.   Unfortunately only the words seem to have survived since the sheets were sold to audience goers so they could sing along and of course they did not get the score.

I would love to share the words but for the moment a well known band have them for setting to music and I would hate them to blame me for letting the cat out of the bag.  Grin

Now that's really interesting. When the time is more appropriate I'd appreciate a glance at that song, if I may.

Quote
May I politely point out though that Jeter coined the term steampunk in 1987 - if the comic you are referring to was published in 2000 as you state that is actually 13 years later, not three.

Doh! Embarrassed

I also think the concept of antiquated Cyber style has played a big part here. A big influence coming from comics, books and video games. It's been ages since I read 200 AD for example...

Indeed, Mean Angel made his first appearance in the Judge Dredd Judge Child saga in 2000AD prog #160, all the way back in 1980. I still have my original copies from back then.  Grin

I think it's also possible that Mean's skull and eye prosthesis may have been an influence on some of the steampunk builds I have seen. But...

Quote
It all fits in with the retrofuturistic Sci Fi idea, and lets face it, given that Steampunk is based on Victorian era Sci Fi, there are a lot of Science Fiction fans developing it.

... very true, but it's the earliest sighting of the prosthetic mechanical arm which is specifically steampunk that I'm trying to track down.

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Mr Peter Harrow, Esq
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« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2011, 12:49:35 am »

Anyone here need a Thesis project? That could fit the bill.

That would be a pros-Thesis, then.

What about the Six Hundred Dollar Men in The Wild Wild West TV Movies of 1979-1980, a direct riff on the cyborg Six Mllion Dollar Man in a definite steampunk setting.

Earlier yet, Rotwang had a prosthetic hand in Metropolis, although given his name that may not have been the only prosthesis he had.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2011, 01:27:24 am by Mr Peter Harrow, Esq » Logged

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Evelyn Adler
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« Reply #10 on: December 03, 2011, 02:14:48 pm »

I guess that it may have been a fluent process, that lead to the idea of a steam-powered arm.

When you look at the history of robotics, you notice that amazing automatons of some kind have been around from a very early age. The development of artificial limbs to replace lost ones stagnated somewhat, most being just rigid imitations like peg legs and such, but there have been several examples of mechanical limbs that actually worked, for example the iron hand of Goetz von Berlichingen as early as 1504.

I couldn't find an early mentioning of a robotic/steam powered arm so far, but I suppose, with Victorians imagining so many things could be invented to run on steam power, automated limbs would be a logical step at some point.
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« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2011, 10:04:24 pm »

Anyone here need a Thesis project? That could fit the bill.

That would be a pros-Thesis, then.

Quoted for splendidness. Smiley

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celephicus
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« Reply #12 on: December 04, 2011, 10:42:34 pm »

Anyone here need a Thesis project? That could fit the bill.


That would be a pros-Thesis, then.

What about the Six Hundred Dollar Men in The Wild Wild West TV Movies of 1979-1980, a direct riff on the cyborg Six Mllion Dollar Man in a definite steampunk setting.

Earlier yet, Rotwang had a prosthetic hand in Metropolis, although given his name that may not have been the only prosthesis he had.


A past girlfriend did a (pro)thesis in cyborgs, she studied Metropolis to death. I remember that Rotwang means red-cheek, no idea what the meaning of that is. I did a con as Rotwang, it took weeks to wash the flour out of my hair. It was fun having a mechanical hand, I could just say "I'm sorry my dear, I had no idea why it did that" Smiley

Nice theory about Rotwang btw, no wonder Hel left him for Fredersen.

What about Dr. Strangelove with his disobedient arm that was prone to random Fascist salutes?

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« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2011, 12:39:56 am »

not steampunk and considered to be derivative of Rotwang. Undecided
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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #14 on: December 05, 2011, 09:01:43 pm »

I suspect that unless something like the Wild Wild West series does turn up a mechanical arm, as opposed to a fully cyborg assasin as described here.

http://www.coolasscinema.com/2011/01/from-beyond-television-wild-wild-west_24.html

Cap'n Bellinger may well have found the true original "Steampunk" mechanical arm in the comic of the same name.
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Dr von Zarkov
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« Reply #15 on: December 17, 2011, 02:08:10 am »

What about Dr. Strangelove with his disobedient arm that was prone to random Fascist salutes?

A gloved prosthetic hand is the signature of many classic villains. The hand, having a mind of its own, is never
quite trusted. There ought to be a good back story detailing the circumstances leading to the loss of said appendage.
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« Reply #16 on: December 18, 2011, 08:04:29 am »

I actually have a copy of a Victorian song sheet (c.1850) about a Napoleonic Wars veteran who loses his arm and has a steam arm made to replace it.   Unfortunately only the words seem to have survived since the sheets were sold to audience goers so they could sing along and of course they did not get the score.

I would love to share the words but for the moment a well known band have them for setting to music and I would hate them to blame me for letting the cat out of the bag.  Grin

Of course this does not answer your question at all as far as steampunk is concerned but may illustrate that the idea is far from a new one.

May I politely point out though that Jeter coined the term steampunk in 1987 - if the comic you are referring to was published in 2000 as you state that is actually 13 years later, not three.

I too keenly await earlier sightings of the steampunk prosthetic arm.



Wouldn't happen to go like this...



Oh! Wonders sure will never cease,
While works of art do so increase;
No matter whether in war or peace,
Men can do whatever they please.
Ri too ral, etc.

A curious tale I will unfold
To all of you, as I was told,
About a soldier stout and bold,
Whose wife, ‘tis said, was an arrant scold.
Ri too ral, etc.

At Waterloo he lost an arm,
Which gave him pain and great alarm;
But he soon got well, and grew quite calm,
For a shilling a day was a sort o' balm.
Ri too ral, etc.

The story goes, on every night
His wife would bang him left and right;
So he determined, out of spite,
To have an arm, cost what it might.
Ri too ral, etc.

He went at once, strange it may seem,
To have one made to work by steam,
For a ray of hope began to gleam,
That force of arms would win her esteem.
Ri too ral, etc.

The limb was finished, and fixed unto
His stump of a soldier neat and true;
You'd have thought it there by nature grew,
For it stuck to its place as tight as glue.
Ri too ral, etc.

He started home and knocked at the door,
His wife her abuse began to pour;
He turn'd a small peg, and before
He'd time to think, she fell on the floor.
Ri too ral, etc.

With policemen soon his room was fill'd,
But every one he nearly killed;
For the soldier's arm had been so drill'd,
That once in action, it couldn't be still'd.
Ri too ral, etc.

They took him, at length, before the mayor,
His arm kept moving all the while there;
The mayor said ‘Shake your first if you dare,'
When the steam arm knocked him out of the chair.
Ri too ral, etc.

This rais'd in court a bit of a clamour,
The arm going like an auctioneer's hammer;
It fell in weight like a paviour's rammer,
And many with fear began to stammer.
Ri too ral, etc.

He was lock'd in a cell for doing harm,
To satisfy those who had still a qualm,
When all at once they hear an alarm,
Down fell the walls and out popp'd the arm.
Ri too ral, etc.

He soon escap'd and reach'd his door,
And knock'd by steam raps half a score;
But as the arm in power grew more and more,
Bricks, mortar and wood soon strew'd the floor.
Ri too ral, etc.

With eagerness he stepp'd each stair,
Popp'd into the room–his wife was there;
‘Oh! Come to my arms', he said, ‘my dear';
When his steamer smash'd the crockery ware.
Ri too ral, etc.

He left his house, at length, outright,
And wanders now just like a sprite;
For he can't get sleep either day or night,
And his arm keeps moving with two-horse might.
Ri too ral, etc.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2011, 08:06:40 am by Reverend Panic » Logged

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« Reply #17 on: December 18, 2011, 12:24:44 pm »

You mean this?

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Captain Shipton Bellinger
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« Reply #18 on: December 19, 2011, 07:36:31 am »

That's terrific. Thanks, chaps.  Cheesy

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