Digesting Duck

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The original Digesting Duck
A mistaken representation of how the Digesting Duck worked

The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of a duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. The mechanical duck appeared to have the ability to eat kernels of grain, and to metabolize and defecate them. While the duck did not actually have the ability to do this—the food was collected in one inner container, and the pre-stored feces was "produced" from a second, so that no actual digestion took place—Vaucanson hoped that a truly digesting automaton could one day be designed.

Voltaire wrote that "without...the duck of Vaucanson, you would have nothing to remind you of the glory of France." ("Sans...le canard de Vaucanson vous n'auriez rien qui fit ressouvenir de la gloire de la France.")

The Duck was destroyed in a fire at a museum in 1879.[1]

Modern influence[edit]

A replica of Vaucanson's mechanical duck, created by Ian Huynh, was part of the collection of the (now defunct) Grenoble Automata Museum.

The duck is mentioned by the hero of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Artist of the Beautiful."

The duck is referenced and discussed in John Twelve Hawks' novel "Spark".

A fictitious enhancement of Vaucanson's original duck, the mythical counterpart to the one seen in the image above, figures prominently in Thomas Pynchon's historical novel Mason & Dixon.

The duck is used as the symbol for the software company Automatic Duck, Inc.

A replica of the duck was commissioned privately from David Secrett, an automaton maker known for his archer figure.

The Duck is featured in Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman, in the Egyptian Hall, alongside the Turk. The Turk also mentions that the Duck was once revered by high society and now sits collecting dust in the museum.

The duck is referred to in Peter Carey's novel, The Chemistry of Tears.[2] It is also mentioned in Frank Herbert's science fiction classic of deep space adventure Destination Void.[3]

In 2006, Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye introduced the world to his "Cloaca Machine", a mechanical art work that actually digests food and turns it into excrement, finally fulfilling Vaucanson's wish for a working digestive automation. Many iterations of the Cloaca Machine have since been produced; the current iteration sits vertically, mimicking the human digestive system. The excrement produced by the machine is vacuum-sealed in Cloaca-branded bags and sold to art collectors and dealers; every series of excrements produced has sold out.[citation needed]

Vaucanson and The duck are referred to in Lawrence Norfolk's 1991 novel Lempriere's Dictionary.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wood (2003). "In 1882, someone wrote a letter to a German newspaper claiming they had seen the duck in a private museum in Krakow during the summer of 1879. But within days the museum had burnt down".
  2. ^ Morrison, Rebecca K. (30 March 2012). "The Chemistry of Tears, By Peter Carey". The Independent. The Independent. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Page 75, Revised edition June 1984 ISBN 0-425-07465-X.


  • Wood, Gaby (2003). Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life. London: Faber. ISBN 9782738120021

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]