- Historic Sites
The bizarre career of “The Turk,” an ingenious mechanical chess player that defeated Frederick the Great, George III, and Napoleon (whom it caught cheating) and nearly fooled all America
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
At a public auction in Philadelphia on September 14, OhI bid in the Turk at four hundred dollars and sold it, still crated, for the same amount to Dr. John Kearsley Mitchell, a professor at Jefferson College of Medicine, who performed an “autopsy.” Dr. Mitchell formed a club for the automaton, the membership growing to seventy-five enthusiasts who paid dues of five or ten dollars each. The mechanism was shown to the members in the autumn of 1840. Private exhibitions followed in various members’ homes, but the Turk soon lost his novelty and was presented to the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia, where he played chess several times and was then relegated to an upstairs corner. On July 5, 1854, fire broke out in a nearby theater and enveloped the museum. Crews marched in and out of the building for several hours saving the museum’s treasures, but no one remembered the ancient Turk, and he perished by flame at the age of eighty-five.