This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about notable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, were not reported in The Times.
More than 60 years before Kindles, Nooks, iPads and other electronic devices revolutionized reading, a gadget invented in a village in Spain had the potential to do the same.
The Enciclopedia Mecanica, or Mechanical Encyclopedia, as it was called, was not the brainchild of a multinational corporation like Apple or Amazon; it was invented in 1948 by Angela Ruiz Roblesa widowed teacher who wanted to facilitate the learning of her students and her three daughters.
Her invention, a pale green textbook-sized box with an intricate interior, allowed a user to read words in any language and on any subject, and was intended to lighten the load of books from a student. Today, many consider it an analog ancestor of the e-reader.
“What she invented continued into the future,” her grandson Daniel Gonzalez de la Rivera said by telephone from his home in Madrid.
He added: “Every time I see one, I remember my grandmother. »
Inside the covers of the Clockwork Encyclopedia were three horizontal spools containing scrolls, each of which could be replaced by another, on a different subject. The scrolls could contain text, elaborate line drawings, or sketches of ornamental figures, and the encyclopedia, which was battery-operated, contained a small light bulb allowing users to read in the dark. Ruiz Robles created the device, along with the scrolls that come with it, “to obtain maximum knowledge with minimum effort,” as she told the Pueblo newspaper. in 1958.
The machine, which Ruiz Robles calls “a mechanical, electrical, and air pressure procedure for reading books,” received Spanish patent 190,698 in 1949. A prototype received another patent, 276,346, when it was assembled in 1962 in the Ferrol shipyard, under the supervision of Robles. work.
Decades later, in November 2007, Amazon introduced the Kindle, which featured a 6-inch electronic screen. ink screen which allowed users to download and read some 88,000 books and magazines. The devices sold out in less than six hours. This year, wordsrated.coma research organization devoted to the publishing industry, reported that 15.92 million e-books were produced each month.
In his day, however, Ruiz Robles failed to muster much support in manufacturing. Despite repeated efforts, she was unable to convince financiers to finance her creation, and it was never widely distributed.
Today, the prototype of Ruiz Robles’ Mechanical Encyclopedia is on display at the National Museum of Science and Technology in La Coruña, Spain, a source of pride for his country and a testament to what could have been.
Ángela Ruiz Robles was born on March 28, 1895 in Villamanín, a small town in the province of León, in northwest Spain. His father, Feliciano Ruiz, a wealthy pharmacist, and his mother, Elena Robles, a housewife, provided him with a first-rate education. She graduated from a normal school in Léon, then taught there until 1916.
In 1918, Ruiz Robles moved to Santa Eugenia de Mandia, a village in Galicia near the coast, where she worked as a teacher until 1928. She then moved to nearby Ferrol and founded the Academia Elmaca .
The school, located in his house and named in honor of his three daughters, Elena, Elvira and Maria Carmen, offered day and night classes, serving as a training ground for students of limited means. She also developed effective teaching methods for students with disabilities, sometimes showing up at their homes to offer additional assistance.
In 1934, Ruiz Robles became director of the Escuela Nacional de Niñas del Hospicio, a national school for orphans in Ferrol, where she helped otherwise disadvantaged girls thrive in society.
She found great meaning in working on behalf of others.
“We come into this world not only to live our lives as comfortably as possible,” she told Pueblo in 1958, “but also to care about others so that they can benefit from something we offer them . »
Between 1938 and 1946, Ruiz Robles published 16 textbooks, including tutorials on spelling, grammar, syntax, shorthand, and phonetics. But in 1946, her husband, Andres Grandal, a merchant sailor, died of a heart attack, leaving her to raise her three daughters alone.
Despite his considerable domestic and teaching duties, Ruiz Robles devoted his free time to inventing a modern and interactive approach to education.
Gonzalez de la Rivera described her grandmother as driven, noting that she preferred the solitude of her desk and the clicking of the keys on her typewriter rather than sitting in a cafe or playing cards with friends.
“She never wasted time,” he said. “She didn’t look at the birds. She was still working.
“Can a good inventor be a good housewife at the same time? Yes, yes, but it is necessary that the servants or the people around her do not force her into long conversations about ordinary things,” she told Pueblo. “Silence is essential because it facilitates the gestation of these ideas which then promote the progress of the world. »
In 1947, Ruiz Robles received the Cross of Alfonso X the Wise for his innovations in education, research and social work. In 1952, she received a gold medal at an exhibition of Spanish inventors.
She spent the last years of her life in Madrid with her daughter Maria Carmen and never gave up on having her invention manufactured. Ruiz Robles received offers to produce it in the United States, but she rejected them, saying that her creation should be made in Spain.
“I accompanied her to different organizations and lawyers to promote her mechanics book,” Gonzalez de la Rivera said. “I explained how the product worked and how to make the book lighter. We went around without success. But my grandmother was never frustrated. I never remember her saying to me, “What a shame” or “What a disaster.” She was never scared.
Ruiz Robles died on October 27, 1975. She was 80 years old.
In 2018, the Madrid City Council approved the naming of a street in his honor in that city.
“She was a woman with three daughters and no husband,” said Gonzalez de la Rivera, her grandson, adding, “It’s amazing what she did.”
This article will appear in a new book, “Neglected», a compilation of 66 obituaries published this fall.