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Rube Goldberg

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Rube Goldberg
Goldberg Himself.jpg
c. 1916
Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg

(1883-07-04)July 4, 1883
San Francisco, California
DiedDecember 7, 1970(1970-12-07) (aged 87)
Resting placeMount Pleasant Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York
Alma materUC Berkeley
OccupationEngineer, sculptor, news reporter, cartoonist
Known forRube Goldberg machines
Something for Nothing (1940)

Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg (July 4, 1883 – December 7, 1970), known best as Rube Goldberg, was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor.

Goldberg is best known for his popular cartoons depicting complicated gadgets performing simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. The cartoons led to the expression "Rube Goldberg machines" to describe similar gadgets and processes. Goldberg received many honors in his lifetime, including a Pulitzer Prize for political cartooning in 1948 and the Banshees' Silver Lady Award in 1959.[1] He was a founding member and first president of the National Cartoonists Society[2] and the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to its Cartoonist of the Year. He is the inspiration for international competitions known as Rube Goldberg Machine Contests which challenge participants to create a complicated machine to perform a simple task.

Personal life

Goldberg was born in San Francisco, California, to Jewish parents Max and Hannah (Cohen) Goldberg.[3] He was the third of seven children, three of whom died as children; older brother Garrett, younger brother Walter, and younger sister Lillian also survived.[4] Goldberg began tracing illustrations when he was four years old, and first took professional drawing lessons when he was 11.[4]

Goldberg married Irma Seeman on October 17, 1916.[3] They lived at 98 Central Park West in New York City and had sons Thomas and George. During World War II, Goldberg insisted that his sons change their surname because of the amount of hatred towards him stemming from the political nature of his cartoons.[5] Thomas chose the surname of George, in order to honor his brother; George, wanting to keep a sense of family cohesiveness, adopted the same surname.


Rube Goldberg with family, 1929

Goldberg's father was a San Francisco police and fire commissioner, who encouraged the young Reuben to pursue a career in engineering. Rube graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1904 with a degree in Engineering[1] and was hired by the city of San Francisco as an engineer for the Water and Sewers Department. After six months he resigned his position with the city to join the San Francisco Chronicle where he became a sports cartoonist.[1] The following year, he took a job with the San Francisco Bulletin, where he remained until he moved to New York City in 1907, finding employment as a cartoonist with the New York Evening Mail.[4]

The New York Evening Mail was syndicated to the first newspaper syndicate, the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, giving Goldberg's cartoons a wider distribution, and by 1915 he was earning $25,000 per year and being billed by the paper as America's most popular cartoonist.[4] Arthur Brisbane had offered Goldberg $2,600 per year in 1911 in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to move to William Randolph Hearst's newspaper chain, and in 1915 raised the offer to $50,000 per year. Rather than lose Goldberg to Hearst, the New York Evening Mail matched the salary offer and formed the Evening Mail Syndicate to syndicate Goldberg's cartoons nationally.[4]

In 1916, Goldberg created a series of seven short animated films, finding humorous aspects to details of everyday life[6] in the form of an animated newsreel.[7] The seven films were released on these dates in 1916: May 8, The Boob Weekly; May 22, Leap Year; June 5, The Fatal Pie; Jun 19, From Kitchen Mechanic to Movie Star; July 3, Nutty News; July 17, Home Sweet Home; July 31, Losing Weight.[8]

Goldberg was syndicated by the McNaught Syndicate from 1922 until 1934.

A prolific artist, Goldberg produced several cartoon series simultaneously, including Mike and Ike (They Look Alike), Boob McNutt, Foolish Questions,[9][10] What Are You Kicking About,[11] Telephonies,[12] Lala Palooza, The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Women's Club, and the uncharacteristically serious soap-opera strip, Doc Wright, which ran for 10 months beginning January 29, 1933.[13]

The strip that brought him lasting fame was The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorganzola Butts, A.K., which ran in Collier's Weekly from January 26, 1929 to December 26, 1931. In that series, Goldberg drew labeled schematics of the comically intricate "inventions" that would later bear his name.[14] The idea for Professor Butts came from a couple of college professors he studied with (and found boring) while earning his degree from the College of Mining and Engineering at the University of California from 1901 to 1903, Samuel B Christie and Frederick Slate.[15]

From 1938 to 1941, Goldberg drew two weekly strips for the Register and Tribune Syndicate: Brad and Dad (1939–1941) and Side Show (1938–1941).[16]

Starting in 1938, Goldberg worked as the editorial cartoonist for the New York Sun.[17] He won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning for a cartoon entitled "Peace Today".[17] He moved to the New York Journal-American in 1949 and worked there until his retirement in 1963.[18]

Cultural legacy

The popularity of Goldberg's cartoons was such that the term "Goldbergian" was in use in print by 1915,[19] and "Rube Goldberg" by 1928.[20] "Rube Goldberg" appeared in the Random House Dictionary of the English Language in 1966 meaning "having a fantastically complicated improvised appearance", or "deviously complex and impractical."[4]:118 The 1915 usage of "Goldbergian" was in reference to Goldberg's early comic strip Foolish Questions which he drew from 1909 to 1934, while later use of the terms "Goldbergian", "Rube Goldberg" and "Rube Goldberg machine" refer to the crazy inventions for which he is now best known from his strip The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, drawn from 1914 to 1964.[4]:305

The corresponding term in the UK was, and still is, "Heath Robinson", after the English illustrator with an equal devotion to odd machinery, also portraying sequential or chain reaction elements. The Danish equivalent was the painter, author and cartoonist Robert Storm Petersen, better known under his pen name Storm P. To this day, a overly complicated and/or useless object is known as a Storm P.-machine in Denmark.

Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin (1931)

Goldberg's work was commemorated posthumously in 1995 with the inclusion of Rube Goldberg's Inventions, depicting his 1931 "Self-Operating Napkin" in the Comic Strip Classics series of U.S. postage stamps.[21]

Film and television

Advertisement (1916)
Advertisement (1916)

Rube Goldberg wrote a feature film featuring his machines and sculptures called Soup to Nuts, which was released in 1930 and starred Ted Healy and the pre-Curly Howard version of The Three Stooges.

In the 1962 John Wayne movie Hatari!, an invention to catch monkeys by character Pockets, played by Red Buttons, is described as a "Rube Goldberg."

In the late 1960s and early 70s, educational shows like Sesame Street, Vision On and The Electric Company routinely showed bits that involved Rube Goldberg devices, including the Rube Goldberg Alphabet Contraption, and the What Happens Next Machine.[22][23]

Various other films and cartoons have included highly complicated machines that perform simple tasks. Among these are Flåklypa Grand Prix, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Wallace and Gromit, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, The Way Things Go, Edward Scissorhands, Back to the Future, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Goonies, Gremlins, the Saw film series, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Cat from Outer Space, Malcolm, Hotel For Dogs, the Home Alone film series, Family Guy, American Dad!, and Waiting...

Also in the Final Destination film series the characters often die in Rube Goldberg-esque ways. In the film The Great Mouse Detective, the villain Ratigan attempts to kill the film's heroes, Basil of Baker Street and David Q. Dawson, with a Rube Goldberg style device. The classic video in this genre was done by the artist duo Peter Fischli & David Weiss in 1987 with their 30-minute video Der Lauf der Dinge or The Way Things Go.

Honda produced a video in 2003 called "The Cog" using many of the same principles that Fischli and Weiss had done in 1987.

In 2005, the American alternative rock/indie band The Bravery released a video for their debut single, "An Honest Mistake," which features the band performing the song in the middle of a Rube Goldberg machine.

In 1999, an episode of The X-Files was titled "The Goldberg Variation". The episode intertwined characters FBI agents Mulder and Scully, a simple apartment super, Henry Weems (Willie Garson) and an ailing young boy, Ritchie Lupone (Shia LaBeouf) in a real-life Goldberg device.

The 2010 music video "This Too Shall Pass – RGM Version" by the rock band OK Go features a machine that, after four minutes of kinetic activity, shoots the band members in the face with paint. "RGM" presumably stands for Rube Goldberg Machine.[24]

2012 The CBS show Elementary features a machine in its opening sequence.

2014 The Web Series, Deadbeat, on Hulu features an episode titled, "The Ghost in the Machine," which features the protagonist, Kevin, helping the ghost of Rube Goldberg complete a contraption that will bring his grandchildren together after making a collection of random items into a machine that ends up systematically injuring two of his grandchildren so they end up in the same hospital and finally meet.


Both board games and video games have been inspired by Goldberg's creations, such as the 60's board game Mouse Trap,[25] the 1990s series of The Incredible Machine games,[26] and Crazy Machines.[27] The Humongous Entertainment game Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse involves searching for the missing pieces to a Rube Goldberg machine to complete the game.

In 1909 Goldberg invented the "Foolish Questions" game based on his successful cartoon by the same name. The game was published in many versions from 1909 to 1934.[28]

Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game, the first game authorized by The Heirs of Rube Goldberg, was published by Unity Games (the publishing arm of Unity Technologies) in November 2013.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Goldberg, Reuben. "Members / In Memoriam / Rube Goldberg" (JPEG). National Cartoonists Society. Retrieved August 5, 2009.
  2. ^ "The History of the NCS" Archived December 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. National Cartoonists Society.
  3. ^ a b Contemporary Authors: First revision, Volumes 5–8. Gale Research Company. 1969. p. 448.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Marzio, Peter C. (1973). Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work. Harper and Row. ISBN 978-0060128302.
  5. ^ Peterson, Alison J. (November 20, 2007). "George W. George, at 87; writer, producer of films and Broadway plays". New York Times News Service. Boston Globe. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
  6. ^ "Goldberg is Again Star of the Film: Artist-Humorist of The Times Seen in New Set of Animated Cartoons". The Washington Times. July 24, 2016. p. 12. Retrieved May 21, 2018.
  7. ^ Photoplay Editor (May 5, 1916). "Pathé Boob Weekly News from Nowhere: Goldberg Does Some Clever Satiric Cartoons on News Pictures". Philadelphia Evening Ledger. p. 10. Retrieved May 21, 2018.
  8. ^ George, Jennifer (November 12, 2013). The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-1-419-70852-7. Retrieved May 21, 2018.
  9. ^ [1] at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016.
  10. ^ "Foolish Questions hi". The San Francisco Call. December 2, 1910. p. 13.
  11. ^ "What Are You Kicking About". The San Francisco Call. June 1, 1910. p. 13.
  12. ^ "Telephonies". The San Francisco Call. July 12, 1911. p. 10.
  13. ^ Doc Wright at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived April 4, 2016, at WebCite from the original on April 4, 2016.
  14. ^ Tumey, Paul C. (2019). Screwball!: The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny. The Library of American Comics. p. 135. ISBN 978-1684051878.
  15. ^ "The Man Behind Rube Goldberg Machines". BrainStuff. June 13, 2018. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  16. ^ Goldberg profile, Who's Who of American Comic Book Artists, 1928–1999. Accessed Jan. 5, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Nadja Sayej (October 9, 2019). "Rube Goldberg: celebrating a remarkable life of cartoons and creations". The Guardian. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  18. ^ Stefan Kanfer (Winter 2015). "The Alphabet of Satire". City Journal. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  19. ^ Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press. 1915 Vanity Fair The Goldbergian answer would be ‘No, I paint my nose and eyes red every day to frighten the gypsy-moths away.'
  20. ^ Atkinson, J. Brooks (February 10, 1928). "THE PLAY; "Rain or Shine," Joe Cook". New York Times. p. 26. He then introduces the Fuller Construction Orchestra, which is one of those Rube Goldberg crazy mechanical elaborations for passing a modest musical impulse from a buzz.
  21. ^ "American Topics: 20 Classic Comic Strips Get (Postage) Stamp of Approval". The New York Times. May 8, 1995. Retrieved August 5, 2009.
  22. ^ "Sesame Street: What Happens Next Machine". August 6, 2010. Retrieved December 8, 2013.
  23. ^ "Rube Goldberg alphabet contraption, Sesame Street". Retrieved December 8, 2013.
  24. ^ "OK Go – This Too Shall Pass – Rube Goldberg Machine version". YouTube. March 1, 2010. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
  25. ^ Kiniry, Laura (November 13, 2013). "7 Unbelievable Rube Goldberg Machines We Love". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  26. ^ Moore, Bo (May 13, 2013). "The Incredible Machine is Back, Spiritually". Wired. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  27. ^ Colayco, Bob (January 20, 2006). "Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game Review". GameSpot. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  28. ^ Wolfe, Maynard Frank (2000). Rube Goldberg Inventions. Simon & Schuster. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-684-86724-3.
  29. ^ "Rube-Goldberg Puzzler "Rube Works" Now Available for iPad and iPhone". Gamasutra. November 13, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  • Wolfe, Maynard Frank (2000). Rube Goldberg: Inventions. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0684867243.

External links