Workers at The Can, more formally known as the American Can Company factory on Parce Avenue, were in for quite a surprise when they came to work on a Monday in October 1953. There was a new guy at the shop, a very big guy. He was 7 feet tall and weighed in at 1,000 pounds. He went by the name of Canco Charlie. The Fairport workers had heard stories of Canco Charlie, as he had been making his way around the country for some time before his arrival in Fairport. A year earlier, he was even mentioned in Life Magazine, where Canco spokesman Whitney King said, “His forte is winning friends, young and old, and not – for shame, scaring babies.” This was a reaction to the bad manners of a cousin of Charlie’s who worked for another company and brought out the worst in the little ones.
It seems the American Can Company bigwigs in New York hatched a plan to create an “emissary of good will” in the form of a robot named Canco Charlie. The big guy was made of cans, lots of them. His body was similar to an enormous soup can, and his arms and legs were formed of graduated sizes of cans, fastened together. The real magic was on the inside. Powered by 500 pounds of batteries in his belly, Charlie’s inner workings included 47 electronic tubes, like you might find in a Zenith radio of the era, along with almost a mile of wire and six powerful motors. All this 1950s high tech wizardry gave Canco Charlie the ability to walk and talk and adjust his facial expressions. At the time, it was said that Charlie was “controlled by the same principles which govern robot target planes and guided missiles.”
Canco Charlie’s visit to Fairport lasted two days, during which he visited workers at the Parce Avenue factory, hobnobbed with Fairport’s Mayor Harry Van Horn and other local dignitaries and entertained the public in front of the municipal building on South Main Street. His visit was part of a week-long celebration of New York State’s canning industry.
Canco Charlie must have enjoyed traveling, as he spent a year crisscrossing the country and even found time for volunteer work. In the spring of 1953, he visited colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area as a Red Cross volunteer recruiting blood donors. The Torrance Herald reported that Charlie spoke with eloquence on the impact of blood donations and the lives saved in the Korean conflict and also of the need for blood to fight the devastating effects of polio.
As sometimes happens, Canco Charlie seemed to disappear after 1953. Perhaps he retired or was an early victim of recycling.