"Sally" is a household name to our peers and colleagues in the attractions industry, but have you ever stopped and wondered who exactly is Sally and where did the name come from? The story of the animatronic that would become the company's namesake started with a school project.
"The origin of Sally began at the University of North Carolina Dental School, where a college professor required the dental students to use an unusual teaching tool for the Creative Communications class," John Wood recalls. "Dr. John Rob Holland, the original founder of Sally, devised an animated female character with a voice-activated mouth movement and proceeded to use it, along with pre-scripted questions and answers, to thrill and entertain his classmates."
After graduating, John Rob put Sally in a box and brought her back home to Jacksonville. His next-door neighbor, John Fox, was intrigued by the robot and convinced him to use it the following Halloween. It was a hit. The success led them to believe that there could be a market for moving and talking figures.
Where did the name Sally come from? "She was named after a friend in the class - the name just kinda stuck," John recalls. Sally Unlimited, Inc. became the name of the new entity that would be taken to market. In 1979, a new, much better-looking version of Sally was created for the National Association of Display Industries and became our model for the programmer package.
During these early days she was selected by Wella Balsam, a beauty supply company, to be their spokes woman. Sally then became “Missy Murjani” for the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans promotion. Seven Sallys were distributed regionally for Murjani Jeans. She was also selected to represent the Woman’s Army Corp in the WAC Museum.
As the company's entertainment offerings grew, Sally Unlimited came up with the idea of creating a robotic piano player that was so realistic, people didn't realize she was a robot.
"We called her the 'No Robot, Robot,'" says John Wood.
Sally at the Piano went on to entertain crowds in New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and other major areas around the country.
In 2018, Sally's entertainment business model was updated. The prototype "DJ Sally" was developed to pitch a new concept that uses custom playlists paired with an animatronic to entertain new-age crowds. Her trendy appearance and flashy stage props are just one example of the potential "robot-DJ" concept.