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In 1950s, The Canadian Government Built a Machine to Detect Homosexuals

by Aadarsh Jain

In 1950s, The Canadian Government Built a Machine to Detect Homosexuals

May 6, 2021

The Canadian government once developed a machine known as the "Fruit machine" during the cold war era, which was designed to classify gay men so that their bosses could fire them.

The Fruit Machine

Frank Robert Wake, a psychology professor at Carleton University, invented the Fruit machine between 1950s-60s. Dr. Wake was sent to the United States by the Canadian government to research tracking systems in use at the time. Dr. Wake returned to Canada after a year of exploration and used his results to shape the ‘Special Project,’ as it was formally called. It was then renamed ‘the fruit machine’ by an RCMP sergeant, and the name stayed.”

Fruit Machine 740

The chair was similar to that used by dentists. It featured a pulley with a monitor aimed at the participants, as well as a black box in front of it that projected images. The images included everything from bland to sexually explicit portraits of men and women. The pupillary response test, as well as other techniques, had previously calculated that the pupils must dilate in proportion to the amount of interest in the image.

The audience was initially led to believe that the machine’s function was to assess stress levels. Few people volunteered for it until the truth of its true intent became well known.

How The Fruit Machine Worked

The Fruit machine was a homosexual detection machine that required participants to sit in a chair while a black box was pushed past their eyes. Following that, the participants were shown a gay pornographic film. The black box or black camera captured whether or not their pupils dilated when watching the film, and they were then labelled homosexuals. The fruit machine featured a series of questions, a chair that looked like it belonged in a dentist’s office, and flickering pictures of everyday scenes superimposed with pornography that people in the 1950s believed gay people would enjoy. Subjects sat in the chair and studied the videos as scientists took notes on their heart rate, skin reflexes, breathing rate, and pupillary reaction.

fruit machine

The “fruit machine’s” performance and functionality were also questioned. First, the pupillary response test was focused on fundamentally faulty assumptions:

  • Those visuals would trigger a spontaneous response that could be tested scientifically.
  • That homosexuals and heterosexuals would respond differently to these signals.
  • That there were only two categories of sexuality.

Function Of The Fruit Machine

During the Cold War,  Canada launched a violent campaign to exclude homosexuals from public service, the RCMP, and the military, gay and lesbian men and women were targeted. The government falsely convicted thousands of people of the crime of “sexual abnormality,” sometimes with little to no proof.

When the homosexual scare subsided, the government concluded that its finances were no longer enough to warrant the experiments in order to remove gay people from their employment. The fruit machine scientists asked for further funds, and the Defence Research Board, which “had never been involved in the idea in the first place,”  declined.

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