Ángela Ruiz Robles came up with ‘mechanical, electric and air-pressure driven method for reading’ in 1949
Four decades after her death, a Spanish teacher who invented an ingenious mechanical forerunner to today’s ebooks has had a street in Madrid named in her honour.
In 1949, Ángela Ruiz Robles, a passionate and innovative educator and writer from Galicia, came up with a way to expand her students’ knowledge and lighten their satchels at the same time.
Her mechanical encyclopaedia – Spanish patent number 190,698 – was a pastel-green metal box packed with spools, innovation and pedagogical enthusiasm.
Described as a “mechanical, electric and air-pressure driven method for reading books”, it featured audio, interchangeable reels on different subjects, a magnifying glass screen and a light so it could be read in the dark.
Ruiz Robles’s aim was simple – “to make teaching easier; to get maximum knowledge with minimum effort” – and her work went on to win prizes and acclaim.
Unfortunately the mechanical encyclopaedia failed to attract the necessary funding and today her prototype is on show at the national museum of science and technology in the Galician city of La Coruña.
Ruiz Robles died in 1975 but her work has gradually gained posthumous recognition. On 28 March 2016 – which would have been her 121st birthday – she was the subject of a Google Doodle.
This week, Madrid city council approved the naming of a street in the Spanish capital to celebrate her contribution to education and innovation.
The move is part of a wider project to recognise the overlooked, marginalised or forgotten work of many pioneering Spanish women.
“Keeping alive the memory of those people who have advanced culture or science is fundamental to any society,” said Rita Maestre, a spokeswoman for the Madrid government.
“But that recognition will remain incomplete if – as has been the case until now – it ignores half of society. That’s why we have to redouble our efforts to recognise all those women who, in spite of the surrounding context, played key roles in the history of culture and science.”
Last year, the city council decided to name streets after the writer and diplomat Isabel Oyarzábal and the philosopher Elena Cornaro, who was the first woman to receive a doctorate.
It also unveiled nine plaques to commemorate women including the writer Elena Fortún, the poet Ernestina de Champourcín and the singer Dolores Vargas.