Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

The 1949 Mechanical Enclyclopedia, precursor of today’s eBooks

Angela Ruiz Robles

In 1949, Angela Ruiz Robles, a Spanish teacher, invented the Mechanical Enclyclopedia, the world’s first automated reader, precursor of today’s eBooks. The device, that operated on pressurized air, had pre-loaded content on spools that readers could load onto rotating spindles.

In the application she filed with the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office she wrote that:

It has some coils where you place the books that you want to learn in whatever language. By a movement of the the coils, it passes over all the topics, making it stop where you would like it to.
(Patent No. 190,698)




Ruiz Robles conceived the Mechanical Enclyclopedia to reduce the weight of school children’s backpacks, and to make reading accessible to all. She also planned to add a reading light, sound and a calculator. Unfortunately, she could’t find funding in order to continue with the project, and the Mechanical Enclyclopedia never reached the market. The prototype of the automated reader is exhibited in the National Museum of Science and Technology in La Coruña.

The inventor lived in a time when women were totally marginalized in Spanish society. During Francoism, women needed the authorization of their father or husband to carry almost any activity outside domestic labour. Women’s role was limited to being a sweet wife and a diligent mother.

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