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Lyle Zapato

The Giant Mechanical Mosquitoes Of Dr. Gustav Luchy

Lyle Zapato | 2012-02-26.9850 LMT | Retro | Technology | Nature

In 1912, Royal Navy Captain Robert Falcon Scott led the Terra Nova Expedition in an ill-fated attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole. After reaching the Pole and learning they were beaten by Norwegians, his team's failed return trip ended with the death of Scott and his men.

Historians have long debated what could have been done differently to prevent that tragedy, and what still could be done to keep such a tragedy from repeating on future expeditions. In 1913, a Swiss inventor proposed a solution to the problem.

Naturally, it involved giant mechanical mosquitoes:

Luchy's Giant Mechanical Mosquito by Raymond Perry
(Click to enlarge...)

Picture Diagram Illustrating the Inventor's Idea of the Development of the Luchy Machine, Drawn from Sketches of the Small Working Model. The Essential Points of the Invention Can Be Grasped Easily by Study of the Carefully Worked Out Illustration. The Artist Has Shown the Machine at Work in the Antarctic, Boring Through the Ice Cap Down into the Internal Fires of the Earth. While the Inventor Has Suggested the Possibility of Tapping Earth's Heat in This Way, Other Scientists Believe Such a Development Highly Improbable. Not Only Would the Tools Have to Be of Impossible Length and Size, but It Would Not Be Possible to Generate Enough Power to Run Them. Besides, the Internal Fires, When Struck, Would Destroy the Tools Instantly. The Future of the Invention Lies, It Is Believed, in Smaller Machines Which Are Able to Carry Men into Places Inaccessible to Other Means of Conveyance and at the Same Time to Provide Shelter.

The above illustration by Raymond Perry is from an article in the March 9, 1913 Sunday Magazine section of the Salt Lake Tribune (again) about multistory, Diesel-powered, mosquitoform vehicles -- "Mechasquitoes", if you will -- proposed by Dr. Gustav Luchy for mining resources in hostile climates, patrolling desert and tropical colonies, and as engines of war.

This proto-Dieselpunk delight has too much tiny, Richard Scarry-esque detail -- such as the "sheath containing fully equipped ocean liner"! -- to display inside my blog layout, so either see the original scanned page or the cleaned-up version I made. I've transcribed the full article below with added links to interesting background info:

Giant Mechanical Mosquitoes to Conquer Nature!

Astonishing Machines Suggested by a Swiss Scientist to Open Up Earth's Remotest Places, and to Make Impossible a Repetition of the Captain Scott Tragedy

Milan, Feb. 20.

Self-moving mechanisms modelled on the lines of gigantic mosquitoes and designed to enable man to conquer Nature in those places where the climate or the formation of the country make it impossible for him to enter or to remain for any length of time have been invented by Dr. Gustav Luchy, a Swiss scientist. Dr. Luchy, who has been collaborator with the Chevalier Pini, the inventor of astonishing machines for exploring the sea bottoms, asserts that if Captain Scott had been equipped with one of his mechanical mosquitoes he could have made his way to the South Pole within a few hours after leaving his base. He also claims that the machines will make impossible any repetition of the Scott tragedy, and will enable man to wrest from the Antarctic continent its mineral treasures without exposing their operators to the slightest danger.

Despite man's boasted mechanical progress, his engines of locomotion are singularly limited. The locomotive is dependent upon rails; the automobile demands at least a fairly smooth surface on which to run, and the flying machine as yet lacks efficient carrying power. None of the three is equipped to provide adequate shelter for any length of time in parts of the earth's surface where without shelter man cannot exist. Dr. Luchy's problem was to find a mechanism which could be independent of rails, would not be deterred by obstacles impassable to the automobile, would have practicable carrying power, and would provide shelter to a sufficient number of men for a sufficient length of time to enable them to do whatever they had set out to do.

In the formation of the mosquito he claims he found the combination of leg height with carrying power that he desired. The appearance of the machines in action would recall vividly the appearance of the Fighting Machines of the Martians in H. G. Wells's "War of the World's," a description of which is reprinted on this page. [See original for excerpt under the title "The Weird, 'Living' Machines of the Octopus-Like Martians".]

Only small working models of the mechanical mosquitoes have as yet been made by the inventor, but these seem to be as practicable as the paper plans promised. A large working model forty feet high when the long, articulated legs are fully expended, is now in course of construction. In the body are the engines which, provide its motive power and the quarters for a crew of ten men. The head is nothing more than a huge engine, from which are operated the drills, cutting tools, lifting cranes or whatever it is that is necessary for the work at hand. The inventor has in mind still larger machines built on exactly the same lines. He believes that there is no limit to the size of his mechanisms, and that it will be possible to build a mechanical mosquito big enough to walk through the shallower depths of the ocean, and to be powerful enough to cut through earth's crust to the internal fires—the same plan that has been suggested by the famous astronomer, Camille Flammarion, as a solution of the problem of our future source of energy when our coal beds give out.

The Luchy machines, besides being foreshadowed in Wells's fanciful story, have actual predecessors in travelling stages in use at Whitby, England, for marine work. These machines, the invention of Messrs. W. Hill & Co., are now being used for the construction of concrete breakwaters and similar operations. A description of their simpler mechanism will serve to make a trifle clearer the mode of locomotion of the Luchy machines. The Hill stages have eight legs and feet, four of which are used at a time when in motion. There are two massive steel framework structures, one inside the other, the outer being square, and the inner rectangular, the latter being somewhat smaller than the other. The legs, comprising stout members, which can be moved up and down vertically for a considerable distance, are fitted at the corners of each stage, and are pointed at the lower end to secure a firm grip upon the rocky seabed.

The walking action is secured as follows: The outer frame has its front legs lowered until the spuds (or feet) secure a grip upon the seabed. The legs of the inner stage are then raised to clear all obstructions when the stage is moved for ward the full extent of its travel, which brings it against the forward end of the outer stage, when its legs are lowered to the ground. The legs of the outer stage are now elevated vertically, so that the latter rests upon the former.

The outer stage is now moved forward until the inner stage is brought into contact with the rear end of the outer stage. The legs of the last named are then lowered, those of the inner stage raised, and the same cycle of operation is repeated.

The "walking man" is quite a massive affair. The outer frame is 48½ feet square, and it stands 33 feet high from the bottom of the spuds to the working deck level. The inner stage is 29½ feet by 40¼ feet. The result is that the machine can make a forward stride of about ten feet, while the inner stage can move sideways for about three feet. The feet are raised and lowered by screw gearing driven by electric motors. A complete movement can be effected in fifteen minutes.

It has been found that, with this travelling stage, work can be continued in the roughest weather. Indeed, it was the heavy seas experienced at Peterhead that led to its invention.

The Luchy machines have six articulated legs, three on each side of the body. Each leg ends in a deeply ridged foot, designed to give gripping power and to insure stability. The parts where the legs come from the mechanical body move on ball joints, thus giving free movement in all directions.

A study of the diagram on this page gives more clearly than any written description could, the essential principles of the Luchy invention.

In the Antarctic are enormous fields of mineral wealth. Captain Scott reported great coal beds and evidences of platinum, gold, iron and other useful minerals have been reported by other explorers. The great question has been how to get this mineral wealth away from such a place. The land is frozen and for a great part of the year is swept by terrific blizzards, in which man can hardly live, much less work. But it is claimed for the Luchy invention that several machines, each capable of holding crews of forty or fifty men, could be taken down to the Antarctic land mass. There they could be adjusted and could be effectively worked for the greater part of the year at least.

The boring tools in the head of the mosquitoes can be manipulated entirely from the inside of the machine itself and the body of the mechanism provides perfect shelter against the worst climatic conditions that could be encountered.

The machines will be made of steel and aluminum, and are not inordinately heavy. They are run by the Diesel oil machines, and the problem of fuel is the difficult one. It would be with coal. It will even be possible to use one machine as an operating mechanism and to use several others as carriers for whatever ores or other earth's treasures their crews are after.

For work in deserts, where the only means of access is by caravan, it is thought that the Luchy machines will be extremely useful. They do away with the necessity of erecting elaborate buildings or elaborate fortifications against hostile tribes, and can move easily and swiftly from place to place. They carry their own supplies and their own means of movement, and so are not dependent upon their surroundings.

In tropical countries, where locomotive travel is impeded by the vegetable growth, the machines can be equipped with cutting tools, and could clear a path to whatever point aimed at in a fraction of the time compared to the slow methods now in use.

Finally their use as war engines, as terrible as the fanciful "walking tripods" of Mr. Wells's Martians, is being brought to the attention of the Italian Government.

It is only fair to say that many scientists are skeptical as to the practicability of the machines. They grant that they will have limited use, but doubt if they can be extended to the deep sea wading size predicted by Dr. Luchy. Complexity of parts, weight and the enormous energy needed to run them on a large scale are put forth as arguments against their unlimited use.

Strangely, I can find no other mention of Dr. Gustav Luchy. Perhaps the Italian Government commandeered and classified his work before he could make it more widely known.

UPDATE: I originally linked the name "Chevalier Pini" to a site about the famed Italian master-fencer Chevalier Eugenio Pini (the only Chevalier Pini Google seems to know about), but I seem to be mistaken. The subclause in the above article, "the inventor of astonishing machines for exploring the sea bottoms", is referring to Pini, not Luchy as I first read it. Browsing through the Salt Lake Tribune Sunday Magazine sections I found an article in the Dec. 8, 1912 issue about deep sea automobiles that describes Chevalier Pini as an Italian inventor of submarine wheeled craft. It makes no mention of his fencing abilities, which one would assume would be notable enough to mention. So probably a different Chevalier.

UPDATE: Metafilter linked here and commenter elgilito clarifies that "Chevalier Pini" is actually Cavaliere Giuseppe Pino. ("Cavaliere" is just the Italian word for the French/English "chevalier", which is basically the same as a knight. "Pini" is just evidence the Salt Lake Tribune needed better fact-checkers, I guess.) Here's his comment with links:

The text mentions one "Chevalier Pini" as a co-inventor. This was actually the Cavaliere Giuseppe Pino, who was a real inventor and quite a character. This article (from 1904!) describes him as some sort of proto-geek, "fired by the stories of Jules Verne" when he was a kid. Here's another report about him treasure hunting in Vigo Bay using his own patented hydroscope (bottom right picture). He also invented a working "submarine laboratory" and a giant dirigible carrier called the "mareodromo" but I can't find if the latter was actually built.

UPDATE: While giant mechanical mosquitoes could certainly have prevented the Terra Nova Expedition tragedy, they couldn't have done anything to bring Capt. Scott and his men back to life. For that, Salt Lake Tribune suggested the thawing fluid treatment developed by an eminent French scientist:

Can Science Bring Captain Scott Back To Life?


Dr. August de Castellane Seymore, a nobleman of scientific training, proposes a method by which, he declares, the bodies of Captain Scott and his companions may be revived. The doctor, who is of mixed French and Danish parentage, is now living at New Rochelle, N. Y.

"The possibility of bringing animals to life after they have been frozen has already been demonstrated," said Dr. Seymore, "but I have devised a technique that will permit the thawing out of frozen human beings with positive assurance of success.

"I have prepared a fluid which if injected into a frozen body after it has been thawed out, will make the return to life safe and certain. I cannot give all the details of the composition just now, but am willing to submit it to a physician of standing.

"Furthermore I offer my own body as a test of the efficacy of this fluid. I am willing to be put into cold storage for one or one hundred years, and I am looking for a reputable physician who will carry out the experiment on me according to my directions.

"The bodies of Captain Scott and his companions, if brought back to clvilization in a frozen condition could be revived. The captain and his three companions were found frozen stiff in their tents nearly eight months after their death. The captain was sitting with his back against the tent pole. The bodies were in perfect condition.

"They were left as they lay. In fact, they were frozen so stiff it would have been impossible to change their attitude. A snow hill was built over them and a memorial cross placed over this.

"Perhaps a solid block of ice will have formed around Captain Scott before he can be recovered. In any case, it will be necessary to put the body in a refrigerator, keeping it below freezing point, if my treatment is to be applied.

"I have already tried this treatment upon my dog with complete success. In bringing back a human subject to life an important part of the method would be the injection of a large quantity of blood from man in good health.


Side-effects may include loss of sensation in extremities and slight vampirism.

End of post.