Prototype "Butler In A Box"

Prototype "Butler In A Box"

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Description (Brief)
This is the prototype "Butler In A Box", an electronic home controller system created in 1983 by professional magician Gus Searcy and computer programmer Franz Kavan. The idea was to couple emerging computer technology with novel wireless devices and make a product that could control a variety of electrical devices in a home. Searcy reportedly conceived the idea after friends asked him why, if he could pull rabbits from hats, couldn’t he just tell lights to come on instead of physically operating a switch. Soon thereafter, Searcy and Kavan developed “Sidney,” an electronic controller to do that and more.
Currently not on view
Object Name
answering machine component
electronic home controller
date made
Mastervoice, Incorporated
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 3.5 cm x 19 cm x 25 cm; 1 3/8 in x 7 1/2 in x 9 13/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
from Gus Searcy
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Work and Industry: Electricity
Magnetic Recording
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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in 1986 or 87, a former girlfriend worked for a company that dealt primarily in satellite tv systems. she mentioned them having this new product they were considering selling--butler in a box. she said they tested it & it was really cool & I had to see it. couldn't do too much in the office, so we took it to her apt to play. it needed to go through voice recognition set-up, which didn't take a horribly long time. once it recognized both my & my girlfriends voices, we were able to try a few commands. the one the had only came w/one remote controller unit, we connected to a lamp first, then other electronic things. controller was placed between the lamp plug and wall outlet. the butler in a box unit was set to recognize it. then we could speak a series of prompts leading the unit to turn each item on & off. supposedly, it could change channels on a tv or radio, but that appeared to be more complex than had time or energy to accomplish. the unit also had a phone port, so we hooked it to her phone. we programmed a couple numbers & I actually had a conversation with my mother, through the speaker on the unit. we had some good fun with it. it had a perimeter sensor that would act as a security alarm. when you walked into the apt, it would ask for a prompt. if you didn't reply correctly, it would sound an alarm. plus it could be programmed to phone the police. initial set up allowed naming the unit to respond to it's given name--we named it hymie & programmed to ask, "who's there?" our response, "hymie, it's geoff," or sue. the simple tasks, we took the time to program, worked really well. I don't recall the retail price, but in my memory, I'm thinking it was like $5,000 (memory being what it is), which may have been a factor in it's demise (apparently, if we had gone deeper into programming, we would have run into huge limitations)...
Can you tell me please when the last of these were marketed.How long from the 1983 inception did these remain on the market?
"Unfortunately, Faye, I've been unable to find an answer to your question. Our last contact with the donor was in 1992. Mastervoice Inc., was still in business in 1993 but I can't say how long they remained in business or when the last Butler In A Box was sold."

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