Hungarian author and inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen (Johann Wolfgang Ritter von Kempelen de Pázmánd (Hungarian: Kempelen Farkas) built his chess-playing Turk, an automaton that purported to play chess. Although the machine displayed an elaborate gear mechanism, its cabinet actually concealed a small human controlling the moves of the machine.
Von Kempelen's Turk became a commercial sensation, deceiving a very large number of people. It became the most famous, or the most notorious, automaton in history. It also must have been kind of an open secret within the professional chess community because over the years numerous chess masters were hired so that The Turk could challenge all comers with its chess skills:
"With a skilled operator, the Turk won most of the games played during its demonstrations around Europe and the Americas for nearly 84 years, playing and defeating many challengers including statesmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. Although many had suspected the hidden human operator, the hoax was revealed only in the 1820s by the Londoner Robert Willis. The operator(s) within the mechanism during Kempelen's original tour remains a mystery. When the device was later purchased in 1804 and exhibited by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, the chess masters who secretly operated it included Johann Allgaier, Boncourt, Aaron Alexandre, William Lewis, Jacques Mouret, and William Schlumberger" (Wikipedia article on The Turk, in my opinion one of the best articles in the English Wikipedia, accessed 01-20-2012).
According to to a magazine article by Edgar Allan Poe, the original Turk was exhibited in Richmond, Virginia as late as 1836.
Even though the machine intelligence exhibited by the Turk was an illusion, von Kempelen's automaton was much later viewed as an analog to efforts in computer chess and artificial intelligence.