In memory of Ángela Ruiz Robles: precursor of the ebook

We will dedicate this first article to a Spanish woman who doesn’t deserve to be forgotten, Ángela Ruiz Robles, and her most outstanding work: the mechanical encyclopedia. Many people today use an eBook, but very few know their Spanish predecessor. Then, the target is that you know her history. Come On!

Ángela was born on March 28, 1895 in Villamanín, province of León (Spain). There she would enter the School of Teacher Training of León to become a teacher and director at the Gordón School during 1917, and a year later she would get a place at a school in Mandia, a small village near Ferrol. During her trajectory she obtained several distinctions and awards for his merits in the different schools he went through. And those merits aren’t only limited to having gone to studies in a chovinist era and where women were destined to shape their future as housewives, but because she came to give lectures and writo important books, up to 16 scientific works between 1938 and 1946 and it is worth highlighting the 1944 Grammatical Scientific Atlas.

In her role as inventor, it is worth mentioning the invention of the tachymechanical machine and the other great invention in which we are going to focus. It was in 1949 when Doña Angelita, as they knew her, patents the mechanical encyclopedia, the authentic precursor of the ebook. Ángela observed the difficulties that her students had in bringing so many books and weight to school and she wanted to integrate all the subjects in a single metallic book.

The book consists of two parts that unfold like a conventional book. Inside we can find a mechanism composed of springs, gears, metal plates, and some coils. Thanks to this you can display the letters you want or form words, phrases, subjets and all kinds of writings using a simple actuator. The coils are interchangeable, and within them is where the teaching content is found and these can easily be replaced and are translated in several languages.

The mechanical encyclopedia also integrated a light to be able to read at night, and even a series of transparent unbreakable plastics with optical properties to increase the text. But what was extremely advanced was the incorporation of a sound system to listen to the lessons if you were tired of reading or if the student had some kind of vision problem… like moderm audiobooks. In addition, the mechanical encyclopedia could be positioned flat, like a normal book on the table or desk, and even stand to facilitate reading. Does it remind you of something?

Wonderful, right? Well, if you think that his invention made her a billionaire like Jeff Bezos or his innovation was recognized as the contemporary Steve Jobs, beyond some medals and recognitions of the time, the truth is that you are very wrong. When she died on October 27, 1975 in Ferrol, our great teacher and researcher would die along with her invention. Unfortunately nobody wanted to finance her project and only applied to the school in Ferrol where he taught…

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