In 1945, the company Central Research Laboratories was given the contract to develop a remote manipulator for the Argonne National Laboratory. The intent was to replace devices which manipulated highly radioactive materials from above a sealed chamber or hot cell, with a mechanism which operated through the side wall of the chamber, allowing a researcher to stand normally while working.
The result was the Master-Slave Manipulator Mk. 8, or MSM-8, which became the iconic remote manipulator seen in newsreels and movies, such as the Andromeda Strain or THX 1138.
Robert A. Heinlein claimed a much earlier origin for remote manipulators. He wrote that he got the idea for "waldos" after reading a 1918 article in Popular Mechanics about "a poor fellow afflicted with myasthenia gravis ... [who] devised complicated lever arrangements to enable him to use what little strength he had."