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The Fascinating World of Frank Reade (1892)

Dime novel hero Frank Reade has captivated American readers in the 1880s when images of future technologies became a popular hit. Many ...

Dime novel hero Frank Reade has captivated American readers in the 1880s when images of future technologies became a popular hit. Many technological innovations presented where ahead of their time. When you think about steampunk then the various robot-like mechanisms powered by steam envisioned in the series perfectly fits the bill.

Written by Harry Enton and serialized in the Frank Tousey juvenile magazine "Boys of New York" from February 28 to April 24, 1876, the series featured inventions that included dirigible-balloon airships, helicopter-like flying machines, submersibles, steam-driven and electrical land vehicles, and steam- and electric-powered robots.

Replacing horse-drawn carriages are steam-powered robots pulling a carriage like those in China. There is this locomotive-looking tank that somewhat resembles an observation platform with a wagon-like extension. He envisioned a future world when the West will be won by robotic horses.

Although initially published with an anonymous pseudonym, the series became a hit among young boys as it followed the adventures of Frank Reade and his eponymous descendants. It started with Frank Sr., the adventurer-inventor, and then followed by countless stories of the next generation Reades with their electric wundercrafts.

Frank Jr. is the bad-ass son who usually goes off with his mechanical wonders to fight sea monsters or perhaps searching lost treasures. Although the stories are meant for the younger audience, there are subliminal themes of imperialism and white supremacy in the series.

His flying machines are like electric fan helicopter on steroids. It basically looks like a river house ship in Mississippi. The succeeding series was written by a Cuban emigre Luis P. Senarens with the pseudonym Noname. Interestingly, Senarens received a letter of praise from Jules Verne himself and spent the rest of his career stealing ideas from the more-famous Frenchman.

Succeeding stories have brought the Reades to the ends of the Earth with their swashbuckling adventures and expeditions. Here are some of the flying machines and wundercrafts that appeared in the series:

Armored car prowling in the safari with sharpened spikes like chariot wheels of the past.

Flying ships with umbrella like structures to keep it afloat while a pinwheel propeller keeps it moving forward.

A steam boat, named the Zero, on ice skis travelling in the Arctic Circle?

Flying ship colliding with a hot-air balloon.

An early version of scuba with aquanauts examining the chamber of a sunken ship.

A hybrid flying sail/steam ship colliding on an Arctic iceberg.

A UFO-looking submarine, named the Ferret, with a dome-shaped control chamber raises the US flag amid curious onlookers.

An armored land ship trying to attack a frightened buffalo in the prairies.

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