No longer overlooked: Ángela Ruiz Robles, inventor of one of the first electronic readers | ET REALITY


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 device was invented in a town in Spain that had the potential to do the same.

The Enciclopedia Mecanica, or Mechanical Encyclopedia, as it was known, was not the creation of a multinational corporation like Apple or Amazon; It was invented in 1948 by Angela Ruiz Roblesa widowed teacher who wanted to facilitate learning for her students and her three daughters.

His invention, a textbook-sized pale green box with an intricate interior, allowed the user to read words in any language and on any subject, and was intended to lighten the student’s book load. Today, many consider it an analog ancestor of the e-reader.

“What she invented continued into the future,” her grandson Daniel González de la Rivera said by phone from his home in Madrid.

And he added: “Every time I see one I remember my grandmother.”

Within the covers of the Mechanical Encyclopedia were three horizontal reels containing scrolls, each of which could be exchanged for another, on a different topic. The scrolls could contain text, elaborate line drawings, or sketches of ornamental figures, and the battery-powered encyclopedia contained a small light bulb so users could read in the dark. Ruiz Robles created the device, and with it the scrolls, “to obtain maximum knowledge with minimum effort,” as he explained to the newspaper Pueblo. in 1958.

The machine, which Ruiz Robles called “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 at the Ferrol Shipyards, under the supervision of Robles. the work.

Decades later, in November 2007, Amazon introduced the Kindle, with 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, classifiedwords.coma research organization dedicated to the publishing industry, reported that 15.92 million e-books were produced each month.

In his time, however, Ruiz Robles was unable to muster much manufacturing support. Despite his repeated efforts, he failed to convince financiers to finance his creation and it was never widely produced.

Today, the prototype of Ruiz Robles’ Mechanical Encyclopedia is on display at the National Museum of Science and Technology in A 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. Her father, Feliciano Ruiz, a wealthy pharmacist, and her mother, Elena Robles, a housewife, assured her of a first-class education. She graduated from a normal school in León, where she taught until 1916.

In 1918, Ruiz Robles moved to Santa Eugenia de Mandía, a town in Galicia near the coast, where she worked as a teacher until 1928. She then moved to nearby Ferrol and founded the Elmaca Academy.

The school, located in his house and named after his three daughters, Elena, Elvira and María Carmen, offered classes during the day and at night served as a training ground for low-income students. She also developed effective educational methods for students with disabilities, occasionally appearing in their homes to offer additional help.

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 prosper in society.

He found great meaning in working on behalf of others.

“We come into this world not only to live our lives as comfortably as possible,” he told Pueblo in 1958, “but to care about others so that they can benefit from something we offer.”

Between 1938 and 1946, Ruiz Robles published 16 textbooks, including tutorials on spelling, grammar, syntax, shorthand, and phonetics. But in 1946, her husband, Andrés Grandal, a merchant mariner, died of a heart attack, leaving her alone to raise her three daughters.

Despite his considerable domestic and teaching duties, Ruiz Robles devoted whatever free time he had to inventing a modern, interactive approach to education.

González de la Rivera described his grandmother as a motivated person and noted that she preferred the solitude of her office and the clatter of the keys on her typewriter to sitting in cafes or playing cards with friends.

“She never wasted any time,” he said. “She didn’t look at the birds. “She was always 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 to have extensive conversations about ordinary things,” she told Pueblo. “Silence is essential since it facilitates the gestation of those ideas that later favor the progress of the world.”

In 1947 Ruiz Robles received the Cross of Alfonso X the Wise for his innovations in the field of education, research and social work. In 1952 he received the gold medal at an exhibition of Spanish inventors.

He spent the last years of his life in Madrid with his daughter María Carmen and never gave up making his invention. Ruiz Robles had offers to produce it in the United States, but she rejected them, saying that her creation had to be done in Spain.

“I went with her to different organizations and lawyers to promote her mechanical book,” said González de la Rivera. “I explained how the product worked and how to make the book lighter. We made the rounds 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. He was 80 years old.

In 2018, the Madrid City Council approved naming a street in that city after him.

“She was a woman with three daughters and no husband,” said González de la Rivera, her grandson, adding: “What she did is incredible.”

This article will appear in a new book, “Disregarded,” a compilation of 66 obituaries to be published this fall.

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