You know when you type in a URL into your web browser and it comes up with a high-resolution image of R2-D2 that this is going to be a fun place to shop. www.hammacher.com does just that. Geeks everywhere rejoice.
Hammacher Schlemmer began as a hardware store in 1848. In 1853, the owner's nephew and a German investor took over the business and began to establish it as a gadget guy's paradise. They were one of the original subscribers to the Bell Telephone Company Directory and it was one of the first stores in the United States to have electric lighting in the showroom. In 1881 they printed the first Hammacher Schlemmer catalog and by 1912 it printed its largest issue to date -- spanning 1,112 pages. In the 1930's, the catalog began showcasing new inventions in the pages of its catalog, beginning with the first pop-up toaster and portable radio. Much later, in 1988, Hammacher Schlemmer became one of the first retailers to go on the Internet with CompuServe, the first major commercial online service in the United States. In 1995, America Online built Hammacher Schlemmer a store on the Internet. By 1998 Hammacher Schlemmer launched their own website, Hammacher.com. That same year, Hammacher Schlemmer celebrated its 150th Anniversary. As a tribute, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani renamed the block on 57th Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue "Hammacher Schlemmer Way."
All that stuff is great, but they still could have ended up as irrelevant as the Sears Catalog -- if it wasn't for the simple fact that they have some truly strange gadgets that you won't find in your Wal-Mart flyer.
Here are their descriptions of my Top Five favorites:
1) The Genuine 7 Foot Robby The Robot -- Available only from Hammacher Schlemmer, this is a special edition, life-size, fully animatronic remote-controlled version of Robby, the robot from the classic 1956 film Forbidden Planet. Standing seven feet tall, Robby is created from the same blueprints, molds, and templates used to create the original costume. Robby is made by renowned artist Fred Barton, the man commissioned to restore the original robot after its sale to a Southern California prop museum in 1970. Every mechanism is handmade of the finest materials, and this version is remote-controlled. The robot is pre-programmed to deliver his famous lines from the original movie, and the remote control allows you to adjust the robot's volume, track selection, and start and st op functions. Robby can also be prompted to move his computer relay assembly, rotate his servo-controlled head, spin his planetary gyro stabilizers, and rotate his scanners while his various lights flash. Price? $49,999.
2) The Genuine Lost In Space B-9 Robot -- This is my personal favorite -- This is the 6 1/2-foot, animatronic remote-controlled version of the B-9 Environmental Control Robot from the classic Lost In Space television series that ran from 1965 to 1968. Every detail of the original robot is faithfully reproduced from original archival molds, patterns and blueprints. It is made from fiberglass, acrylic, aluminum, and steel parts, including its rotating torso and radar head, flashing lights, animated ear sensors, and clawed arms. It can be operated using the included remote control, allowing you to move its torso left and right and activate the robots soil sampler (which comes out of its right tread housing and spins; the robot provides an audible environmental analysis thereafter). Price? $24,500.
3) The Room Tidying Pickup Robot -- This is the robot that picks up objects at your command and loads them onto its cargo bed, emptying contents at your preferred location. The remote drives the robot left, right, forward, and backward-with skidding sounds for stops and beeps when in reverse-allowing you to nudge it into place for picking up small, 1 oz. items such as balls, toys, or socks with its two articulated arms and hands. It can also operate autonomously using its four infrared "eyes" that seek and detect objects within its 8-12″ sight range while it announces "Let's get to work!" Price? $69.95.
4) The Bananas Apebot -- This is the brawny robotic gorilla that gets its technological pedigree from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and its manners from a jungle finishing school. Employing a unique method of locomotion, the ape balances on his spiraling arms, giving him exceptional speed and power on carpet, hardwood, or even dirt. Normally a jovial fellow, the ape amuses himself by tap dancing, humming a song, and occasionally breaking wind. However, when his sleep is disturbed or he is tipped over, the rambunctious simian "goes bananas," pounding his fists, flashing his laser eyes, and roaring menacingly-until he is calmed by a belly tickle. Price? $59.95.
5) The Voice Activated R2-D2 -- This motorized replica of the headstrong little "droid" from the iconic Star Wars films responds to voice commands, navigates rooms and hallways, and makes any home feel like it has been transported to a galaxy far, far away. R2 obeys more than 40 voice commands ("Turn around!," "Move forward two units!") and he plays games like tag, using an infrared sensor to search for people in a room. His sensor helps him follow behind you, or it can be set to detect motion, turning R2 into a room sentry that sounds an alarm when a secured area is invaded. R2′s lights, swiveling dome top, and distinctive happy and sad sounds faithfully mimic the real thing, right down to his occasional "bad mood." (A simple command of, "R2, behave yourself!" snaps him out of it.) Price? $199.95.
I could keep going as the catalog is packed with more of these kinds of things. Like SkyMall or The Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer is one of the last of a dying breed -- the printed catalog. Enjoy it while you can and order something today for the Gadget Guy (or Girl) in your house.