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Boilerplate, History's Mechanical Marvel: A Book Review

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The unique character of Boilerplate made its first appearance on a website created by Paul Guinan in 2000. The site details the history of a remarkable fictional robot built in the late 19th century by a Professor Archibald Campion. For pseudo-realism it also features photo-shopped images in which Boilerplate is seen interacting with various historical figures of the time. When Guinan realized that some visitors to the site were taken in by its narrative, he decided to see how authentic he could make Boilerplate by writing a book about his life, and ensuring that the descriptions of the non-fictional events he participates in are accurate. This makes Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel a very different and interesting read, particularly when it comes to Boilerplate's involvement in the period's many wars, discussed in detail below.

Boilerplate in WWI

Archie Campion originally designed Boilerplate to prevent the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations. Boilerplate would first be deployed in a warzone in 1896, three years after his creation. In the span of 22 years the automaton would be a part of seven conflicts.Reading the book raised two major questions: why does no army commission more mechanical men? And why does Boilerplate disappear at the close of the First World War?

The lack of enthusiasm for mechanical soldiers and Boilerplate’s disappearance are both due to humanity’s irrational opposition to change.These seven conflicts can be grouped into three major categories: Wars of Imperial conquest characterized by one sided aggression against a weaker enemy, Justified Wars, which have a relatively good cause, and Modern Wars, which feature equally matched opponents without a good cause.

Boilerplate in Cuba

Though Boilerplate is involved in all of these conflicts, he only actually participates in the fighting of three: the Spanish-American War in Cuba, the Boxer Rebellion, and the First World War. In the other conflicts Boilerplate uses his superhuman strength to perform a variety of non-combat tasks such as laying down railways, digging trenches, positioning artillery and carrying supplies. Since his tireless strength is often an even greater asset than his virtual invulnerability it makes sense that he is routinely relegated to the role of a pack mule. Nonetheless he is also employed in high-risk duties like standing sentry and reconnaissance roles where his invulnerability is crucial.

Significantly however, Boilerplate is never the ferocious killing machine you might expect a virtually indestructible robot to be.This might be in part because his designer, Archie Campion, built him to prevent the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations. However, by the close of the First World War Archie, originally an optimist, declares that he has realised that nations would use armies of robots to wage even more deadly wars. This statement contradicts the wealth of evidence that suggests that Boilerplate was a force of good on the battlefield whether the war itself was just or not.

Boilerplate boxer rebellion

First off, accounts of Boilerplate’s fighting style during the Boxer Rebellion describe the robot using his rifle as a quarter-staff and discharging it only for covering fire. It is therefore possible that throughout his long career he never killed any enemy soldiers.

Secondly Boilerplate takes hundreds of prisoners, effectively saving the lives of these enemy soldiers. In every account of the battles he fights the emphasis is always placed on the number of prisoners taken. This makes sense since an invulnerable robot soldier can take prisoners far more easily than his flesh and blood counterparts. Boilerplate also saves the lives of allied soldiers by taking on the dangerous duties of standing sentry and reconnaissance mentioned before. 

No matter what task he carries out, one way or another Boilerplate hastens the end of the conflicts, particularly the smaller scale ones that he is part of, saving even more lives. Overall, the evidence indicates that Archie’s claim that mechanical soldiers would only increase the deadliness of wars seems unfounded.

Boilerplate in Sudan

However, if automatons are so beneficial to the conduct of wars, the problem remains that no more Boilerplates were ever commissioned by any army. Even when Archie offers to pay for the majority of a squad of robots the U.S. government turns him down.The cause of this lack of enthusiasm for robots lies in the irrational human opposition to change.

This irrational opposition to change by learning from the mistakes of the past is evidenced by the outdated human wave tactics used in both the Russo-Japanese War and First World War. During the First World War this refusal to learn caused massacres of seven thousand men every day. In addition, irrational prejudice against Boilerplate is indicated by the fact that he served in black regiments. Nicknamed, Roosevelt’s Mule, Boilerplate was as disrespected and underestimated as the men he fought alongside despite his superhuman abilities. Like the so called “Buffalo Soldiers”, Boilerplate’s remarkable combat performance cannot erase the prejudice against him.

Boilerplate with black troops

The utter refusal to include automatons in the ranks is part of the technological equivalent of the lost generation; Archie’s advanced invention is forced into dormancy by irrational corporate opposition and humanity loses the opportunity to make war less deadly. This imposed dormancy is symbolized by Boilerplate’s ultimate disappearance a month before the end of the First World War. With the rapidly approaching closure of what was believed to be the war to end all war, Boilerplate is on the verge of losing his purpose. All that is left for him to do is vanish, leaving a grieving Archie behind.

It is clear that in Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel, Paul Guinan's clever introduction of a robot into history creates an intriguing and thought provoking narrative. The seemless integration of Boilerplate into actual events allows for a fresh perspective on the issues of the past, many of which still haunt us today. Though it may seem a little goofy, this book is a fun and easy read that should not be overlooked.


Boilerplate standing
Boilerplate standing
Boilerplate standing


Boilerplate MrRooibos 2014-03-07 4.0 0 5



Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel
Amazon Price: $24.95 $6.97 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 7, 2014)


Apr 5, 2014 7:08am
What a great fictional "history" (like with H.P. Lovecraft's non-existent "Necronomicon", a fictional book that only existed as a mere reference in some of his writings, later brought to varying degrees of life by certain posers).

The artworks here are fantastic, especially the war- and show-posters. Great stuff here. I like when people stretch into the realm of the unusual for their subjects. Thumb, +1, pinned, and tweeted.
Apr 5, 2014 8:54am
Thank you very much vic
Apr 5, 2014 8:56am
I like the war posters too. Boilerplate seems a kinder, gentler robot than the Terminators we all grew up with. Capturing the enemy also saved lives because prisoners cannot kill people. Thanks for the article, enjoyed reading it.
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