Rube Goldberg

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Rube Goldberg
Rube Goldberg

Reuben Lucius Goldberg (July 4, 1883 - December 7, 1970) was a cofounder and first president of the National Cartoonists Society. He is one of the most famous cartoonists in history. He's earned lasting fame for his "Rube Goldberg machines"—devices that are exceedingly complex and perform very simple tasks in a very indirect and convoluted way.

Goldberg 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 out of college. However his affinity for drawing cartoons prevailed, and after just a few months he left city employ 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 1907, when he relocated to New York City.

He drew cartoons for several newspapers, including the New York Evening Journal and the New York Evening Mail. His work entered syndication in 1915, beginning his nationwide popularity. A prolific artist, Goldberg produced several cartoon series simultaneously; titles included Mike and Ike, Boob McNutt, Foolish Questions, Lala Palooza, and The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Women's Club.

While all these series were quite popular, the one which led to his lasting fame involved a character named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. In this series, Goldberg would draw labeled schematics of comical "inventions" which would later bear his name. In 1995, Rube Goldberg's Inventions was one of 20 strips included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative US postage stamps.

Goldberg took a job with the New York Sun in 1938 as a political cartoonist, and was successful in this endeavor as well; he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning in 1948.

Later in his career Goldberg was employed by the New York Journal American, remaining there until his retirement in 1964. During his retirement he occupied himself with making bronze sculptures. Several one-man shows of his work were organized, the last one of his lifetime being in 1970 at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.. Shortly afterward, he died at the age of 87; he is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

Rube Goldberg machines

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Example of a Rube Goldberg machine

A Rube Goldberg machine or device is any exceedingly complex apparatus that performs a very simple task in a very indirect and convoluted way. Rube devised and drew several such pataphysical devices. The best examples of his machines have an anticipation factor. The fact that something so wacky is happening can only be topped by it happening in a suspenseful manner.

The term also applies as a classification for generally over-complicated apparatus or software. It 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."

In Britain, such a device would be called a Heath Robinson contraption, after the British cartoonist who also drew fantastic comic machinery, in his case tended by bespectacled men in overalls. See also Roland Emett, who created many actual working machines of this type, such as the Breakfast Machine in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In Denmark, they would be called Storm P maskiner after the Danish animator Robert Storm Petersen.

The Norwegian cartoonist and storyteller Kjell Aukrust created a cartoon character named Reodor Felgen who constantly invented complex machinery. Though it was often built out of unlikely parts, it always performed very well. Felgen stars as the inventor of an extremely powerful but overly complex car Il Tempo Gigante in the Ivo Caprino animated puppet-film Flåklypa Grand Prix (1975).

Another related phenomenon is the Japanese art of useful but unusable contraptions called chindogu.

In the cartoon series Futurama, Professor Hubert Farnsworth often makes huge, complex machinery perform in an overstated and dramatic way to produce simple things such as a glow in the dark nose (it also translates Alien into even more incomprehensible Galactic).

In the 1999 book Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey, the main character, a serial killer named Serge A. Storms, uses a Rube Goldberg device involving a length of wire, an electric motor, a beer can, and the shock wave caused by a space shuttle launch to kill a man with a shotgun. In a later book in the series, Triggerfish Twist, he uses another such device involving wire, gasoline, two floodlights, and a hula hoop to burn someone to death.

The Ideal Novelty and Toy Company released a board game called Mouse Trap in 1963 that was based on Rube Goldberg's ideas (this game is currently made by Hasbro). Rube's machines are often featured on television or in movies, too, for their ingenious nature and pure craziness. In 1993, Sierra Entertainment released the computer game The Incredible Machine, designed around the Rube Goldberg concept. Two more games were also released in the series, Return of the Incredible Machine, and The Incredible Machine - Even More Contraptions. None of the software titles are still made.

Swiss artists David Weiss and Peter Fischli produced a film in 1987 entitled The Way Things Go, which documents the motions of a large-scale Goldberg-style kinetic art installation. This installation was then re-worked in the Honda television commercial Cog, which featured a Rube Goldberg machine made from parts of an Accord.

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