Friday Funny Presents the Turboencabulator

We’re reaching deep into the history of engineering humor for this mini-lecture about the turboencabulator.

Now here’s one of the all-time classics in engineering humor.

The turboencabulator – or turbo-encabulator – is a fictional machine that purportedly sold to the federal government for $750 million, and that’s in 1977 dollars.

The original technical description of the "turbo-encabulator" was written by British graduate student John Hellins Quick. It was published in 1944 by the British Institution of Electrical Engineers Students’ Quarterly Journal in an article titled, "The Turbo-Encabulator in Industry" by J.H. Quick, Student.

In 1962 a turboencabulator data sheet was created by engineers at General Electric's Instrument Department, in West Lynn, Mass. It quoted from the previous sources and was inserted into the General Electric Handbook.

In 1977 Bud Haggart, an actor who appeared in many industrial training films in and around Detroit, performed in the first film realization of the description and operation of the turboencabulator, using a truncated script adapted from Quick's article. Haggart convinced director Dave Rondot and the film crew to stay after the filming of an actual GMC Trucks project training film to realize the turboencabulator spot.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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