Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg

Goldberg, Rube (Reuben Lucius Goldberg), 1883-1970, American cartoonist and sculptor, b. San Francisco. After drawing cartoons for San Francisco newspapers, he moved to New York City. There he worked for the New York Evening Mail until his cartoons became syndicated in 1921. Goldberg originated the successful comic strip "Boob McNutt" and the panel series "Foolish Questions." He is known for his drawings of ludicrously intricate machinery meant to perform simple operations. Goldberg worked as a political cartoonist for the New York Sun and later for the New York Journal American. After 1964 he concentrated on sculpture. He is the author of How to Remove the Cotton from a Bottle of Aspirin (1959) and Rube Goldberg vs. the Machine Age (1968).

See biography by P. C. Marzio (1973).

Reuben Garret Lucius Goldberg (July 4, 1883 - December 7, 1970) was an American cartoonist who received a 1948 Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning. He is best known for his series of popular cartoons depicting Rube Goldberg machines, complex devices that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. The Reuben Award of the National Cartoonists Society is named in his honor. In addition, there are several contests around the world known as Rube Goldberg contests which challenge high school students to make a complex machine to perform a simple task.


Goldberg graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco in 1900 and earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1904. Goldberg was hired by the city of San Francisco as an engineer, however, his fondness for drawing cartoons prevailed, and after just a few months, he quit the city job for a job with the San Francisco Chronicle as a sports cartoonist. The following year, he took a job with the San Francisco Bulletin, where he remained until he moved to New York City in 1907.

He drew cartoons for 5 newspapers, including the New York Evening Journal and the New York Evening Mail. His work entered syndication in 1915, beginning his nationwide popularity. He was syndicated by the McNaught Syndicate from 1922 until 1934. A prolific artist, Goldberg produced several cartoon series simultaneously; titles included Mike and Ike (They Look Alike), Boob McNutt, Foolish Questions, Lala Palooza and The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Women's Club.

Goldberg married Irma Seeman in 1916. They remained together until his death in 1970 and had two sons, Thomas George and George W. George. However, during World War II Goldberg began receiving a large amount of hate mail because of the political nature of his cartoons. He ordered both of his sons to change their surnames from Goldberg in order to protect them. Thomas chose his new last name as "George". George also chose "George" as his new last name in order to keep some kind of family bond with his brother.

Goldberg died at the age of 87; he is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

Rube Goldberg's son, Broadway and film producer, George W. George, died on November 7, 2007.

His work

Professor Butts and his inventions

The works which would lead to his lasting fame involved a character named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. In this series, Goldberg drew labeled schematics of the comical "inventions" which would later bear his name. In 1995, "Rube Goldberg's Inventions," depicting Professor Butts' "Self-Operating Napkin," was one of 20 strips included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative U.S. postage stamps. The "Self-Operating Napkin" is activated when the soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin. After-dinner entertainment can be supplied with the simple substitution of a harmonica for the napkin.

The term also applies as a classification for a generally over-complicated apparatus or piece of software. The corresponding in the United Kingdom is "Heath Robinson" (machine or contraption), after the British cartoonist who earlier had a similar focus on odd machinery. The term "Rube Goldberg machine" first appeared in Webster's Third New International Dictionary with the definition "accomplishing by extremely complex roundabout means what actually or seemingly could be done simply."

Modern Rube Goldberg machines are typically built with whatever one has at hand—due to the ad hoc nature of such constructions—and it's not uncommon to find toy cars, marbles and the occasional piece of tableware somewhere in the mix.


Later in his career, Goldberg was employed by the New York Journal American and remained there until his retirement in 1964. During his insomnia, he occupied himself by making bronze sculptures. His work appeared in several one-man shows, the last one during his lifetime being in 1970 at the National Museum of American History (then called the Museum of History and Technology) in Washington, D.C..


In addition to his 1948 Pulitzer Prize, he received the National Cartoonists Society Gold T-Square Award in 1955, their 1969 Reuben Award and their Gold Key Award (posthumously in 1980).

Cultural references and influences

A feature film written by Goldberg and featuring his machines and sculptures is "Soup to Nuts" (1930). The film includes Ted Healy and The Three Stooges.

The popular child's game Mouse Trap (board game) is based on Goldberg's machines as is the 1990s era video game series The Incredible Machine.

The 2008 science fiction novelette The Last of the Funnies by Mike Cope features a magical Rube Goldberg machine that is hidden in one of Rube Goldberg's famous sculptures. The book pays homage to characters, people, and organizations tied to comic strips -- including The Yellow Kid, Rube Goldberg, Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and the National Cartoonists Society (NCS).

See also

External links


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