We tend to think of automation as a fairly modern phenomenon. The word automation, in the manufacturing sense, was coined by Ford Motor Co. Vice President Delmer S. Harder in 1948. However, automation can trace its roots back much further than that.
The word automate is derived from the Greek word αὐτόματον (automaton) meaning, “acting of one’s own will”. Arguably the earliest mention of automation is in Homer’s famed Iliad, written in 762 B.C. (give or take 50 years). At the end of book one, Homer presents the tale of Hephaestus.
Hephaestus is the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes. He was responsible for creating, in his workshop, all of the weaponry used by the gods of Mount Olympus. To help him in his workshop he crafted automatons. Automatons were self-operating machines or robots fashioned from metal. They aided Hephaestus in his work and helped make possible the production of the magnificent equipment of the gods as well as legendary tools utilized by ancient mortals such as Agamemnon's staff of office and Achilles' armor.
So the next time you look out onto your factory floor at the many machines that make your manufacturing processes possible, know that you are taking part in advancing an ancient tradition.