The Silver Swan Automaton

Built in the mid 18th-century, this swan robot is made entirely out of silver and still works! Like the Tipu Tiger automaton, the silver swan operates using complex systems of springs and gears.

When activated, the life-size metallic swan swivels and pivots to preen and hunt for fish. The “stream” it swims in is actually an array of glass rods, which when layered overtop of silver, creates the glittering illusion of running water.

The automaton was designed and built by John Joseph Merlin and London inventor James Cox.

Originally, the swan had an 18-foot waterfall standing behind it, but researchers believe it was stolen while on exhibition.

The silver swan attended the 1867 World’s Fair and was even seen by Mark Twain.

silver swan automaton

“The swan had a living intelligence in his eyes.” – Mark Twain


“BIONs” – short for Believe It or Not – is the word we use at Ripley’s to refer to anything that is unbelievable and worthy to become part of Ripley’s lore and collection.