1540s, "structure of any kind," from Middle French machine "device, contrivance," from Latin machina "machine, engine, military machine; device, trick; instrument" (source also of Spanish maquina, Italian macchina), from Greek makhana, Doric variant of Attic mēkhanē "device, tool, machine;" also "contrivance, cunning," traditionally (Watkins) from PIE *magh-ana- "that which enables," from root *magh- "to be able, have power." But Beekes, on formal grounds, objects to the connection to words in Germanic and Slavic. He finds the Greek word isolated and is convinced that it is Pre-Greek.
Main modern sense of "device made of moving parts for applying mechanical power" (1670s) probably grew out of mid-17c. senses of "apparatus, appliance" and "military siege-tower." It gradually came to be applied to an apparatus that works without the strength or skill of the workman.
From 17c.-19c. also "a vehicle; a stage- or mail-coach; a ship," and, from 1901, "a motor-car." Also in late 19c. slang the word was used for both "penis" and "vagina," one of the few so honored.
The political sense "a strict organization of the working members of a political party to secure a predominating influence for themselves and their associates" is U.S. slang, attested by 1876. Machine age, a time notable for the extensive use of mechanical devices, is attested by 1882, though there is this:
The idea of remodelling society at public meetings is one of the least reasonable which ever entered the mind of an agitator: and the notion that the relations of the sexes can be re-arranged and finally disposed of by preamble and resolution, is one of the latest, as it should have been the last, vagary of a machine age. ["The Literary World," Nov. 1, 1851]
Machine for living(in) "house" translates Le Corbusier's machine à habiter (1923).
also dumbbell, "one of a pair of weighted bars used for exercise," by 1785, earlier (from 1711), according to OED, an apparatus like that used to ring a church bell, but without the bell (hence dumb); used for physical exercise but sometimes also to practice ringing changes. See dumb (adj.) + bell (n.). If this is right, the word must have been transferred; earlier 18c. references make mention of "pulling" or "ringing" dumb-bells and note that it can be done only indoors. The following is a footnote to the 1903 reprint of Joseph Strutt's 1801 "The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England":
The origin of the term is somewhat curious. Dumb-bells take their name by analogy, as was pointed out in Notes and Queries in 1861, "from a machine used for exercise, consisting of a rough, heavy, wooden flywheel with a rope passing through and round a spindle ... and set in motion like a church bell." This statement, however, does not sufficiently explain the transference of such a name to the short bar and rounded lead or iron ends of a hand dumb-bell. This difficulty was explained by the late Chancellor Ferguson in a paper read before the Archaeological Institute in 1895, wherein a dumb-bell apparatus, now at Lord Sackville's seat at Knowle, was described and illustrated. The roller round which the rope winds and unwinds has four iron arms, each of which has a leaden poise or ball at the end, just like the end of an ordinary hand dumb-bell. This Knowle example is fixed in an attic and the rope passed through to a gallery beneath. Anyone pulling the rope would get much the same exercise as in pulling a bell rope in a church tower, but without annoying his neighbours by the noise. There used to be a similar apparatus at New College, Oxford.
Figurative sense of "blockhead, stupid person" attested by 1918, American English college slang.
Old English Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but originally with the nearby bright star Arcturus, which is linked by folk etymology to Latin Arturus "Arthur." Which places the seven-star asterism at the crux of the legendary association (or confusion) of Arthur and Charlemagne. Evidence from Dutch (cited in Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology") suggests that it might originally have been Woden's wagon. More recent names for it are the Plough (by 15c., chiefly British) and the Dipper (1833, chiefly American).
It is called "the Wagon" in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer's time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum "freight-wagon, ox cart" and arctos "bear," both used of the seven-star pattern, as were equivalent Greek amaxa (Attic hamaxa) and arktos.
The identification with a wagon is easy to see, with four stars as the body and three as the pole. The identification with a bear is more difficult, as the figure has a tail longer than its body. As Allen writes, "The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal,--indeed the contrary ...." But he suggests the identification "may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen north." The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes). See also arctic for the identification of the bear and the north in classical times.
A variety of French and English sources from the early colonial period independently note that many native North American tribes in the northeast had long seen the seven-star group as a bear tracked by three hunters (or a hunter and his two dogs).
Among the Teutonic peoples, it seems to have been only a wagon, not a bear. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that "unlearned men" call it "Charles's Wain":
Arheton hatte an tungol on norð dæle, se haefð seofon steorran, & is for ði oþrum naman ge-hatan septemtrio, þone hatað læwede meon carles-wæn. ["Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy"]
[Septemtrio, the seven oxen, was yet another Roman name.] The star picture was not surely identified as a bear in English before late 14c.
The unlearned of today are corrected that the seven stars are not the Great Bear but form only a part of that large constellation. But those who applied the name "Bear" apparently did so originally only to these seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just the seven stars. From Rome to Anglo-Saxon England to Arabia to India, ancient astronomy texts mention a supposed duplicate constellation to the northern bear in the Southern Hemisphere, never visible from the north. This perhaps is based on sailors' tales of the Southern Cross.