The mastermind
© Walt Disney
December 2020

The mastermind

By Björn Carstens
Gyro Gearloose is the innovative mastermind in Disney’s Duckburg universe. Claiming that “U name it I can make it,” he invented amazing things like think boxes, magical vibration sensors and bike saucers. As we’re seeing today, many of his inventions were definitely those of a true visionary. But read for yourself …

Mobility is a topic that literally moves the world. The residents of Duckburg, spearheaded by Gyro Gearloose, are no exception. The master tinkerer (promoting himself with slogans like: “Inventions anywhere anytime!”) with the distinctive pince-nez glasses sitting on his beak was an incredibly prolific creator of contraptions to get himself and his fellow citizens from A to B. Gyro is particularly fond of flying. “You float and are now finally free,” Gearloose muses about an age-old dream of humanity, be it with motorized fairy tale classics like witches’ brooms or flying carpets, with hoverboard-like flying scooters – see Hollywood classic “Back to the future” – or with flying cars. Obviously, there’s also a flying saucer in Gyro’s garage. Off you go. But, like so many geniuses, the clever chicken is at odds with his work. “Good-bye you cushioned chariot,” he rails at his flying saucer in the story “Man versus machine.” “My trusty legs will be my steeds from now on!” Gyro embarks on an adventurous march – and has to be rescued by two robots. Technology is both a blessing and a curse. Gyro’s creator, Carl Barks, has his cartoon character struggle with this ambivalence time and time again, symbolizing humanity’s plight. Ultimately, faith in technological progress wins out, because it can produce positives, provided its aims are not just focused on moving faster and flying higher, but also on efficiency, for example. Efficiency is always specified for Gyro’s inventions. In fact, it would be fair to call the ingenious cartoon character an environmental pioneer: an inventor, as it were, with a commitment to saving the world.

Only half of my inventions turn evil. The rest are just wildly misunderstood

Gyro Gearloose

Fond of nature and animals, he develops a noiseless rocket (1952, the year in which Gyro is born, intersects with the beginning of the jet age), uses biofuel (his bike saucer zooms 1,000 miles over the clouds on a pint of peanut oil) and has his car powered by a perpetual motion machine while a solar cell supplies the onboard electronics with sustainable energy. This makes filling station attendant Donald Duck see red. Clad in his sailor suit, Donald blows his top: “Aw, ye cats! If your doggone new-fangled car is such a self-curing everlasting, automatic wonder, why do you come in here, anyway?” Wishful thinking. This is exactly the kind of car we’d love to have today. In 1964, another one of author Carl Barks’ intriguing stories illustrates what his untiring innovator does with a jetpack. Gyro doesn’t just dash through the airways without rhyme or reason, oh no. He applies his new-found skills to paint a bridge in practically no time. It makes you wonder if Barks had any inkling that his idea was a forerunner of drones as airborne helping hands?

The mastermind© Walt Disney
Smart machines

Thanks to Gyro Gearloose, artificial servants regularly see the light of day in the Duckburg comics universe. Machines, robots and universally skilled computers meant to make everyday life easier fascinate the mental acrobat who has a seemingly boundless wealth of creativity: “I believe that I’ve invented something really sharp here – a robot that can act by picking up my thoughts.” The creator names its innovative yellow tin box Roscoe – apparently, the choice of female names expressing gender equality was not yet in vogue more than 60 years ago. Talking about Alexa, Siri and company, Gyro’s creator Barks draws the early form of today’s commonly used voice-controlled assistants as far back as in 1958, just two years after one of his compatriots coined the term “Artificial Intelligence” and long before AI moved into millions of households.

Now, try to keep up with my mind-numbing genius

Gyro Gearloose

The thinking robot, though, still has some flaws (“Two sensible questions I ask, and get two senseless answers”) but, lo and behold, is also reminiscent of Siri (“I don’t understand your question”). Even so, the ingenious engineer keeps experimenting with the fusion of machine and biological intelligence. On humans and animals. The merging of two worlds. However, with one of the Beagle Boys, the law-abiding inventor throttles back his intelligence machine to half-speed (“If he thinks I will help him succeed at such dastardly mischief, he is dumb”). Using a think box and intelligence beams, Gyro “Doolittle” Gearloose enables animals to talk and a wolf instantly expresses a voracious appetite for roast duck. Yummy! Understandably, this causes a red alert in Duckburg. The metaphysical character of many of his machines is another intriguing aspect, first and foremost, Gyro’s legendary machine fueled by imagination. “Under the hood one experiences everything one imagines in one’s imagination, to a certain extent really,” enthuses the iconic inventor, providing his early, albeit advanced response to Virtual Reality.

Gyro Gearloose’s name in various countries
  • Danish: Georg Gearløs
  • Dutch: Willie Wortel
  • Estonian: Leidur Leo
  • Finnish: Pelle Peloton
  • French: Géo Trouvetou, Géo Trouvetout
  • German: Daniel Düsentrieb
  • Norwegian: Petter Smart
  • Polish: Diodak
  • Portuguese: Professor Pardal
  • Slovenian: Profesor Umnik
  • Spanish: Ungenio Tarconi

In 1964, Gyro Gearloose is horrified to see that his vision of a fully automated city has mutated into a nightmare. The Duckburg universe suffers a deeply depressive episode, because there’s hardly anything left to do for its residents. Partly automated hovercraft with self-activating “blowhard devices” safely haul Donald & company to their 10-minute shifts in robot-dominated factories. Slides replace the need to walk. And “recording devices in our pillows play scads of knowledge into our empty minds while we sleep.”

How boring for Huey, Dewey and Louie! Even toys play automatically. Gyro’s in the doldrums, too, because a humanoid machine has taken over his inventor’s work. The ingenious chicken with the chin-strapped yellow hat finally loses his cool: “Grab a tool und start wrecking this – this Monsterville!“ Whank! Bong! The halls of the steel mills reverberate with joy: “The automatic gizmos are kaput, men! Who’s for using their hands? Me! I! Me, too! Me, also!” This is another short story taking cues from the prevailing mood in those days, because just two years earlier the world’s first robot had started to work at automaker GM’s plant in Detroit, evoking amazement and worries, because even back then the diligent machines inspired people’s imagination about all the things that could be done with them while also stoking fears of mass layoffs. Today, we know that both machines and digitization have created more jobs than they destroyed and are relieving us of many tedious and unrewarding tasks.

No mechanical monster is going to take over the greatest fun I have – work. (…) Duckburg isn’t ready yet for total automation

Gyro Gearloose
The mastermind
Gyro’s loyal companion

“All my friends are leaving me. Nothing remains for me, as my little helper,” Gyro once wistfully complained. Little Helper – a small humanoid robot constructed from pieces of metal and seals, and a light bulb for a head – accompanies Gyro on nearly all of his adventures and gets the inventor off the hook more than once. In stark contrast to most of Gyro’s inventions, his cute sidekick proves to be near-perfect. That’s why it’s deemed to be almost impossible that Gyro created Little Helper himself. But, then, who did? This will remain a mystery which cartoonist Carl Barks never revealed in his lifetime. Little Helper just suddenly appeared in his imagery like an electromechanical foundling and went on to become a regular feature. A small humanoid robot as an omnipresent friend and assistant in any of life’s situations. Honestly: who wouldn’t like to have something like that?

4 different flavors

can be produced by Gyro’s hay-to-milk machine: vanilla, chocolate, caramel and cow flavor. Subsequently, his synthetic food production culminates in a survival kit that generates the ingredients for all kinds of dishes exclusively from sand and air: a highly relevant topic today as research scientists have been working on artificial meat and vegetables from the laboratory.

The mastermind
Climate engineering

When all attempts to protect the climate fail, geo engineering – also referred to as climate engineering (see page 6) – is deemed to be a possible plan B. While many concepts today are still in their infancy, the clever chicken Gyro Gearloose developed a number of ingenious prototypes and solutions such as a “futuristic city with built-in weather controls… for a perfect climate.” His rain maker (light sprinkler, 2.49, big gully washers 4.98) that saw him waddling in Benjamin Franklin’s footsteps has become an iconic creation. While Franklin, the scientist, uses a kite made of thunderbolt-attracting wooden sticks and silk cloth for his lightning rod, Duckburg’s universal genius reverses the principle. Using a model of the same design, he sends a thunderbolt – equating to about 280 kWh of electrical energy – back into the clouds, opening heaven’s floodgates. Gush! (“Looks like you’ll have a use for those lightning bolts, after all, Gyro!”). Once again, the comics super-brain seems to be a step ahead of his human fellow scientists, who only started trying to harness the energy in thunderbolts for technical purposes in the late 1980s. With modest success, whereas Gyro as a rainmaker might be able to rake in one dollar after another: not a bad idea for business in times of increasingly longer periods of hot and dry weather.

Gyro’s intellectual father
The mastermind© Walt Disney

Carl Barks purportedly once said that deep down inside he was an inventor because he kept coming up with the craziest things. His ingenuity arguably made him one of the most popular authors and illustrators in the Disney universe. Barks is the “father” of Scrooge McDuck and the Beagle Boys, among others. In 1952, the American author created Gyro Gearloose – as a quiet, likable and extremely unpretentious character. Barks needed an inventor for a brief gag and later said that he’d have adjusted the size of Gyro’s body to Donald’s or Uncle Scrooge’s from the get-go had he known that he’d be filling a whole book with stories about him. Like Gyro, Barks worked largely in seclusion at his home in San Jacinto (California). He’d leave his home no more than twice a month to present his stories to his publisher. Initially carrying only Walt Disney’s name, fans were kept in the dark about the author’s identity for a long time and so honored him by calling him “The Good Artist.” Barks died in 1999 at age 99.

Material optimization

Refinement of materials, optimization of surfaces: Technology in this field is progressing at top speed.Schaeffler is continuously expanding its expertise in coating technology, too. In the context of research, the developers from Herzogenaurach and their comics colleague are kindred spirits, albeit with differences in areas of emphasis. Admittedly, the clever chicken tends to come up with rather wacky innovations. Or have you ever heard of fur on cold door knobs? Duckburg’s rumor mill has it that people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis are forever thankful to him for this brainwave. Just like Scrooge McDuck, for whom the super-brain has built an indestructible money bin – from a newly cre- ated element called fortismium (derived from Latin for strong). A substance harder than diamonds on the Mohs hardness scale. It’s just super-annoying when you’ve forgotten the code for the armored lock with 17-fold protection. Gyro’s novel foam turns into a super-hard substance, too: “This stuff comes out of the can like whipped cream, but it hardens into concrete in two minutes!” That sounds like a pipe dream of real-world civil engineers. Talking about construction, Gyro opts for the fast track as well. A house without brick and mortar, without wood and metal, built from a “modern plas- tic material. The whole house can be inflated like a balloon.” This is basically an early example of the classic bounce house for kids’ parties not invented until 20 years later, in 1977, by an Austrian. It’s not known whether or not she was a Gyro Gearloose fan.

The mastermind© Walt Disney
The mastermind
The Barks Library

encompasses the collected works of Disney’s iconic comics author Carl Barks which he wrote and illustrated from 1942 until retiring in 1966. The Gyro Gearloose Special consists of 6 volumes including a lexicon of all his inventions. From A like in Alternate Life Machine to Z like in Zoom-Stick.