Introduced in the 1950s, the Autopen Model 50 was one of the International Autopen Company’s earliest automatic signature machines. Similar to the Autopen Model 60, Autopen Model 80, and Autopen Model PT, the recorded signature is physically encoded in a plastic “matrix” or “template.” The matrix rotates on a turntable driven by an electric motor. The inner and outer edges of the matrix drive two cams, which in turn are attached to a pen-holder. Any writing instrument could be placed in the holder.
The device was a substantial piece of office furniture, measuring 34 inches high, 34 inches wide, and 34 inches deep. The Model 50 weighed 100 pounds. At top speed, the machine signed about twice as fast as a human. Operated continuously for an 8 hour shift, the machine could produce 3000 signed documents per day.
Using a foot pedal to activate the machine, an operator could use both hands to manually feed in letters, checks, photos, or other documents which required signatures. In automatic mode, the machine continually spun the turntable, requiring the operator to keep up feeding material under the pen.
In his book, The Robot That Helped to Make a President, Charles Hamilton reports that John F. Kennedy made substantial use of the Autopen Model 50 throughout his administration. Neither the White House nor the Autopen Company have ever publicly confirmed this, however.
The Autopen Model 50 originally retailed at $975, with additional charges for creating the signature templates. The machine was marketed as “a fountain pen come to life.”