Robot Archaeology: Garco, the Robot of the 1950s @Disney #Robots

GARCO represents one of the first attempts at an all-purpose functional humanoid robot. He had most of his success in entertainment. Garco was built in 1953 by Harvey Chapman, an engineer for the Garrett Supply Company of Los Angeles (which explains the “Garrett” name plate on the front of Garco) in three months in his home garage out of discarded airplane parts. Garco started out as a publicity stunt, but Chapman, when he was interviewed by Popular Science magazine for its December 1953 issue, felt that his creation should be taken more seriously.

Chapman felt that creations like Garco could be utilized to do a lot of the highly dangerous but necessary jobs like mixing the ingredients for experimental explosives, handle deadly bacteria, weld, handle radioactive material, salvage items from underwater and perhaps even pilot the first rocket to the moon. According to the article:

“Chapman brings Garco to apparent life by first opening the circuits and sending electricity surging into the complex metal body. He then lays his right arm along a five-jointed electromechanical control arm, which has a handgrip at the end of it. The joints can be moved up and down, in and out. As Chapman twists and turns his own arm—and the control arm along with it—Garco’s right arm moves in exactly the same way. Garco is so sensitive, in fact, that if Chapman’s hand shakes, Garco’s does, too.”


garco & walt disney

Garco appeared with Walt Disney in Walt Disney’s Disneyland, Mars and Beyond. He can also be seen on the DVD Walt Disney Treasures – Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond. The control arm of the master-slave unit pre-dates the harness used by the Disney Imagineers for their Audio-Animatronics by 10 years. Were they inspired by what they saw back then in MARS AND BEYOND (DISNEY, 1957)?

Garco also appeared in a good deal of other promotional opportunities. He promoted the Sci-Fi movie called “Gog” (1954) about robots . Garco was often photographed with star Sally Mansfield.


Garc consisted of 1,200 feet of wire cable. A two-way radio transmitter enabled Garco to make pertinent remarks. As the joints in the control arm move through six electric channels they notify sensing devices in Garco’s “electronic brain” that they have disturbed the balance in many Wheatstone-bridge systems. The disturbance of each bridge fires an electronic tube, which in turn activates a relay tube, which actuates one of the five [actually .05-RH]  horsepower motors in Garco’s right arm. Garco’s left is manipulated by 22 push buttons, mounted on the case of the control arm. The push buttons, in addition to working Garco’s left hand and arm, move the robot’s jaws and lips, increase his height six inches, roll his plastic eyes and enable him to bow at the hips. Both of Garco’s arms contain five tiny actuator motors. Three apply torque, representing the ball joints of a man’s shoulder and elbow; the others, taking the place of tendons, apply linear push and pull.

You can see Garco performing some tasks in this Youtube clip (no audio)

Chapman received patents, D171439 (see pdf here) issued Feb 1954 and 2858947 (see pdf here) issued Nov 1958 for Garco.


Many mysteries still surround Garco. Why was he named “Garco” (other than after Garrett)? Did each letter stand for something? Whatever happened to Garco? He seems to disappear from the publicity circuit in the 1960s perhaps replaced by more modern counterparts like Robby the Robot. The Los Angeles Times on Aug 6, 1961 reported that “Garco Shows Signs of Wear, Will Retire – A mechanical man who can play chess, mix drinks, hammer nails and carry out other assignments with human encouragement will retire from active duty soon.” His mechanism was apparently breaking down. The Garrett Corp. stated “We are hoping to find a permanent home for him in the Smithsonian Institute or some other museum where he can be preserved for posterity,” said Mickey Parr, company spokesman. Perhaps he’s in the garage of one of the Garrett company engineers, long since retired?


Here at Adafruit, we’re interested in all robots and in making robotic projects with our new Crickit robotics board.


Do you recall Garco? Perhaps you know where he is? Post in the comments!

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