I have no idea if this worked, or if it was even real, but it sure does look cool. Recently Boston Dynamics has made a robot pack-mule that is somewhat similar.

Here is a later article in Mechanix Illustrated with little tanks that look somewhat similar.


A MECHANICAL horse that trots and gallops on steel-pipe legs, under the impulse of a gasoline engine, is the recent product of an Italian inventor. With this horse, he declares, children may be trained to ride. The iron Dobbin is said to canter along a road or across a rough field with equal ease. Its design recalls the attempts of inventors, before the days of the automobile, to imitate nature and produce a mechanical steed capable of drawing a wagon.

  1. Charlie says: December 4, 200612:42 pm

    I was wondering that myself..

  2. Stannous says: December 4, 200610:20 pm

    must be a Shriner from before they got those little cars:

  3. latente says: December 5, 20065:45 am

    it’ a “balilla” cap…

  4. […] Manchmal denkt man bei obskuren Ideen, “Verdammt, warum hat sich das nicht mal durchgesetzt?” Das Horse of Steel ist sowas. Überhaupt ist die Seite sehr zu empfehlen, relativ alte wissenschaftliche Artikel werden gezeigt. Manch lustige Erfindungen, manch interessante Einblicke. […]

  5. Damn Data says: January 4, 200712:06 pm

    He rides an iron horse…

    We salute the pioneers of early transportation (no matter how unlikely, uncomfortable and unwieldy – reminds me a little of Shiva, although Shiva is nicer on the eye) and their young fez-wearing riders:

    Hat tip (via)

  6. Vlad says: September 21, 200710:56 am

    I want one of these!

  7. gobi says: November 19, 200712:01 pm

    This is a fake… com on….

    and the boy is wearing a cap of the Italian Faschists
    real strange….

  8. Adam says: January 8, 20088:16 am

    Kidnapper’s great grandpa?

  9. ItalianJob says: January 12, 20086:43 am

    Hi, I’m italian and I was really surprised seeing this photo. I’ve spent hours searching on the web and asking on the Italian community of Yahoo Answers, but noboby knows this legendary steel horse! So I decided to send the piture and the article to Focus, a famous italian magazine about science, mechanics, people and culture, read by loads of curious people in Italy. I hope I’ll find some answers to what I think, by now, to be a big fascist regimen propaganda fake!

    Greetings! Laura from Rome

  10. marco says: January 29, 20081:54 am

    Hy, another italian here.

    Never seen anything like this. Can only confirm that the boy looks like dressed with a balilla uniform (can’t see well the details), and that during fascist years there was a strong seek of new technological stuffs.

    But there is something weird in the picture, not fascist era-like style. And the device looks like a fake. But who knows, a lot of documents have been destroyed, and a lot are still hideen. So, who knows?

    Interesting, anyway, really.
    Thanks 🙂

  11. Paolo says: January 31, 20088:43 am

    ” and yet why is this lad wearing a fez? ”

    becouse in Italy in that period there was the Fascism and kids wore in this way

  12. Kelly says: March 5, 20085:45 am

    There is just something about the tree, it looks as though part is an old photo and some of it has been “doctored”. I think there are several photos put together here. 1933, I dont know what type of photo cheating capabilities they had, but I would suspicion some type of “photoshop” work done here. The iron horse, possibly something that was built as a model for movies? And I dont see what the boys hand is on… almost like the boy was on a bike of some sort and then pasted onto this pic. Just my two cents… but I find the pic rather fascinating!

  13. Lauren says: March 22, 20084:00 am

    Ok well after reading #13 Kelly’s comment I took a second look at the photo, and it does look doctored. The shadow of the tree trunk is going towards the kids foot, but the machine’s shadow is going off almost towards the tree. not possible.
    And if I am wrong about the tree’s shadow, like if its actually going the same way as the machine’s, then where is the shadow of the leftmost leg? It should have the same darkness as the other back leg’s shadow.

    But hey I could be wrong!

  14. Kelly says: March 22, 20089:20 am

    I agree with the shadow theory of #14 Lauren. Also, the right branch of the tree looks odd… light below the leg and dark above the leg… a botched doctoring job. And it still looks odd to me how the boys hands look like they are just in the air and not holding onto anything. Does anyone know how photos were doctored back in the 30’s?

  15. B22 says: March 26, 20088:27 am

    I think the picture has merely been retouched for better contrast, and that it is not a fake. However, I also think the horse didn’t work; that is to say, it walked (it looks logical enough, mechanically), but it was pathetically clumsy and unstable, and probably very unreliable and fragile, and difficult or impossible to steer. I’m sure it was also uncomfortable enough to be no fun. I imagine it was test-ridden a couple of times, and then disappeared into a shed somewhere, never to reëmerge.

    It would be cool if someone made an updated version that actually worked.

  16. B22 says: March 26, 20088:28 am

    PS, do you like what I did with the dieresis there?

  17. Charlie says: March 26, 20089:03 am

    Hehe, very nice 🙂

  18. Tim Tracy says: July 18, 20082:04 am

    It was definately possible with the technology of that time as it is today to make a practical, ridable and steerable mechanical walking machine that would resemble this particular “horse” somewhat but would in effect be radically different. As a rule the horse would have a minimum of six legs to be steerable using 1930’s technology. Search for the ridable 8-legged mechanical spider built for last year’s burning man festival, it was built using technology that basically hasn’t changed in some 75 years. This is obviously not a steerable walker or even one that could stand for very long without tipping over but it is one that could very well have walked in a straight line

  19. Jennifer in Florida says: October 29, 200811:55 am

    Heh, gotta give a big kudos and A for effort. Thats certainly not an easy project by any stretch. I wonder how effective a project like that would be today with today’s technology and materials. [I’m certain it wouldn’t be viable, but would make a heck of a science project probably for someone.]

  20. jayessell says: October 29, 20084:54 pm

    In the late 1800s there was a popular series of books that featured a steam powered horse.
    I’ll see if any are downloadable.

    Google for “Franke Reade and his Steam (Man, Horse, Team,)”

  21. jayessell says: October 31, 20081:04 pm

    Make that “Frank Reade”.
    Series author EDWARD S. ELLIS
    I found “The Huge Hunter; OR, The Steam Man of the Prairies”
    at http://www.gutenberg.or…
    (I would have preferred the Steam Horse, The Steam Team, or The Steam Tally-Ho)
    ((That’s One horse, two horses and three horses respectively.))

    PS: Charley, I don’t know if it’s due to your technical issues, but using the search term
    ‘horse’ did not find this article, despite the article BEGINNING with that word.
    I had to resort to ‘manage your subscriptions’.

  22. Horse of Steel « Robot War Espresso says: May 17, 200912:18 am

    […] Source: Popular Science, April 1933 — Modern Mechanix […]

  23. […] HORSE OF STEEL RUNS ACROSS FIELDS (aprile 1933, Popular Science)    “Un cavallo MECCANICO che trotta e galoppa su piedini in tubi di  acciaio, con un motore a benzina, prodotto recentemente da un inventore italiano. Con questo cavallo, dichiara, i bambini possono essere educati  alla guida. Si dice che il Dobbin di ferro può galoppare con altrettanta facilità lungo una strada o attraverso i campi. Il suo design ricorda i tentativi degli inventori, prima dei giorni dell’automobile, di imitare la natura e produrre un destriero meccanico in grado di tirare un vagone.”    “A MECHANICAL horse that trots and gallops on steel-pipe legs, under the impulse of a gasoline engine, is the recent product of an Italian inventor. With this horse, he declares, children may be trained to ride. The iron Dobbin is said to canter along a road or across a rough field with equal ease. Its design recalls the attempts of inventors, before the days of the automobile, to imitate nature and produce a mechanical steed capable of drawing a wagon.” via… […]

  24. 1933 Walker: Fact or Fraud? | Artists Blog says: October 25, 20098:42 pm

    […] newspaper piece claims to show an Italian boy in the 1930s riding a four-legged walking machine powered by a gas […]

  25. The Urban Cowboy says: November 16, 20098:31 pm

    Now that’s what I call stupid!

  26. gabriel says: September 21, 20103:03 pm
  27. alzetta gerardo says: July 25, 20123:44 am

    Dear Laura from Rome, by chance I’ve seen your comments of January 12, 2008: The mechanical horse was not a fake and there is nothing phony either about the story or the photo. It was built by my father in 1932-33 and a second improved version was built the following year. The horse was tested, was functional and moved also in open fields. What is left of this invention is still visible in Grizzo (PN), where my father was born in 1892. The daughter Giuliana was able to keep it thoughout the war years and stored the mechanical horse in a country house with other inventions of my father. I can send to you a recent picture of the horse.

  28. A Brief History of Mechanical Horses | . says: September 28, 20126:00 am

    […] Modern Mechanix […]

  29. […] Modern Mechanix […]

  30. magicalitaly says: June 24, 20152:54 am

    Dear Gerardo, I’ve just read your comment posted on July 25, 2012. I am very interested in the photos you mentioned. I am a researcher now working on images of horse riding during the Fascist era in Italy. If you read this and can, please contact me at [my profile name on this website] @ gmail . com – Many thanks!

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