This elaborate automaton is a reproduction of the original Chess Player (The Turk) built by Hungarian author and inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen. Touted as an android that could defeat chess masters, von Kempelen’s famed illusion debuted at the court of Empress Maria Theresa during wedding celebrations for her daughter in 1769. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Chess Player (known in its time as The Turk for its robes and turban) won games against Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin. When Napoleon Bonaparte tried to cheat, The Turk wiped all the pieces from the chessboard. In reality, a chess master would hide inside the lefthand cupboard.
The mysterious machine sparked discussions of the possibilities and limits of artificial intelligence, and it inspired development of the power loom, the telephone, and the computer. The original and its secrets were destroyed in a fire in 1854. This reproduction is by American magician, John Gaughan.
Photographed as part of the exhibit Making Marvels at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.