Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was born on July 4 in 1883 and, after a brief dalliance in the exciting world of sewage engineering, settled into his career as a cartoonist. Goldberg was the writer and artist behind comic strips featuring excellently named characters such as Boob McNutt, Lala Palooza and Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts — and it was in Butts that Goldberg found his true calling.
Professor Butts was the creator of incredible inventions, including the Self-Operating Napkin and the Simple Machine for Getting Rid of Mice, all of which took the easiest of everyday operations and turned them into the most ludicrous contraptions. Relying on pulleys, wheels, springs, gravity, flame and wind, Rube Goldberg’s ridiculously contrived cartoons were such a hit that in 1931, Miriam Webster dictionaries entered his name into their records to describe just such devices.
The trick to a Rube Goldberg is to make the simple complex — but it can’t all just be clockwork precision. The joy in his blueprints comes from the inclusion of the every day; not just in the jerry-rigged fry pans, fireworks and fishbowls, but in using the emotional outbursts of birds, animals and people. Goldberg’s machines often rely on hungry squirrels, excited penguins and startled chickens to keep procedures moving along. His simple way to brush dandruff from one’s coat incorporates some sort of boxing gloved marmot leaping from his stool and ready for a fight…
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