Okay, so the mechanical construct Rasputin wore in the first Hellboy movie was actually a glove, but it illustrates the dream of steampunk aficionados everywhere: The Mechanical Hand. With today’s robotic technology, we should have Luke Skywalker hands. Right? But what about the heyday of the Victoria? Could gears make the cut?
It turns out there was a macabre looking Victorian prosthesis on display in the London Science Museum. This construct of steel and brass articulates at the elbow via a spring, and the wrist joint rotates and moves up and down just like the real McCoy. The fingers curl up to grip items. This was the actual appearance, so the arm was most likely concealed with a glove.
This doesn’t offer much support for the mechanical arm. Yet, if you travel back another 400 years, you’ll find the legendary Gottfried von Berlichingen (aka Götz of the Iron Hand).
This German mercenary lost his right hand from a cannonball in 1504. He commissioned a custom mechanical hand that connected to his elbow. This remarkable feat of engineering contained spring mechanisms, buttons, and levers that allowed the fingers to operate with amazing dexterity. It earned him is nickname: “that one of the iron hand” (mit to der eisernen Hand).
Gottfried’s iron fingers were controlled with ten mechanical wheels. These were sensitive enough to grip a sword (for terrorizing wealthy nobles), or clutch a quill (to write those ransom notes).
So there you have it. Looking back at Army of Darkness, the machination banged out for Ash looks pretty plausible now.
My question, why don’t we have more cool mechanical prostheses? If a German noble could bang it out 500 years ago, why can’t we? This historical precedent bodes well for all those steampunk constructs.