Museum of Ancient Inventions: Self-Moving Stand

Self-Moving Stand (Egypt, Greece) Date: 100 CE

Heron’s self-moving stand indicates not only his interest in the theater, but also his special fascination with automata. It was able to move across the stage, in different directions, seemingly all by itself. Heron designed variations on the one shown here, such as stands that carried mechanical puppets and even stands that boasted their own miniature theaters: one of these would roll onto stage before a show, doors would open and close by themselves, tiny altars would light up and mechanical figures would move about, and then the stand would roll offstage.The secret of Heron’s self-moving stands was gravity. A large weight connected by ropes and pulleys to the wheels and gears rested on top of a container of grain or sand. As the sand flowed through a sinkhole and into a compartment below, the weight would sink, making the ropes taut and turning the wheels in the interior. The process could be altered by using different amounts of sand, depending on how long a performance was desired.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Shelia M. Kyte ’00

Creating this stand was quite complicated, but worth the effort. First, a box was constructed with three large sides, a base board, and a door to cover the front. Inside, on the left, a small board creates the compartment for the pulley system, and the Plexiglas container allows the draining of the sand to be visible. A large weight was poured from cement, and two small boards with pulleys were placed at the very top of the box to hold the weight over the sand.

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