Mechanical Elephants in America

Here's a fascinating history of Frank Stuart's Mechanical Elephants, a line of life-sized, rideable elephant automata that were sold to department stores and amusement parks in America in the 1950s. "Cybernetic animal and early robot" historian Reuben Hoggett has collected early print mentions of the Stuart elephants and traced their destiny through the rest of the century.

The Billboard 21 Jan 1956

NEW YORK. Jan 14.- The huge mechanical elephant owned by Publicity Searchlight Company will earn a raft of publicity for the firm during the next two months, and possibly a $10,000 plum as well, if the plan of Macy's department store works out as envisioned.

Macy's gimmick campaign is to advertise the gasoline-powered contraption as the world's largest and most expensive toy, with a $10,000 price tag. A six-week program is chartered, and any $10,000 bids received will go to owner George Wendelken, who has a second mechanical elephant if the first one is bought up.

The elephants are one of Wendelken's two publicity elements which he leases or sells as the occasion demands (the market for mechanical elephants has been pretty slow in recent years). The backbone of the company is its fleet of 70 searchlights of which 20 are truck-mounted and the rest trailer-mounted……

1951 – Mechanical Elephants by Frank Stuart in America

(Thanks, Frycook!)