This is Electro, a real life robot that was built for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. This rather famous but still amazingly “WTF?” inducing footage shows him being demonstrated to the studio audience (which appears to be carefully scripted). Why anyone would program a robot to smoke a cigarette is beyond me, but hey, it was 1939!

The World’s Fair was created around the theme “the World of Tomorrow.” Actually I think all World’s Fairs were done around that theme, but this one is particularly remembered for it. Happening as it did just as World War II was beginning in Europe, many of the millions of people who visited the fair recall it as a curious cultural moment, a yearning for an optimistic future that was expressed just as the world’s ultimate darkness began to fall over them. You can certainly see a sort of Buck Rogers-like “Gee whiz!” attitude toward the future displayed here.

But still. A robot smoking? Dubya tee eff! Hope he doesn’t get diode cancer.