The Rube Goldberg Machine Is A Complicated Machine That Does Simple Tasks

You may have heard a convoluted concept described as a "Rube Goldberg" before...then wondered what in the world that meant. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines Rube Goldberg as "doing something simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary." Rube Goldberg was also a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, who made some pretty complicated machines.

The cartoon in the image below, called "Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin," is one of the most famous Rube Goldberg machines. As Wonderopolis explains, this cartoon "sums up what Rube Goldberg machines are all about: creating a machine (or contraption or invention or device or apparatus) that uses a chain reaction to accomplish a very simple task in a very complicated manner." Through a convoluted series of events, the self-operating napkin accomplishes the simple task of wiping his chin.

Reuben Lucius "Rube" Goldberg was born in 1883 with a keen interest in art, but he decided to heed his father's advice and pursue a degree in mining engineering at University of California at Berkeley. He continued to create cartoons, however, eventually landing a job as a cartoonist for the Hearst publication Evening Mail. Goldberg combined his engineering knowledge with his artistic skills, creating the elaborate machines that became his namesake. It's estimated that he drew over 50,000 cartoons in his lifetime. He is also the only person ever to be listed in the Webster dictionary as an adjective.

Goldberg's ideas live on in TV shows such as Pee Wee's Playhouse and movies, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1987, Purdue University in Indiana started the annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, organized by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau, a national engineering fraternity. Several similar competitions have been created since, and Rube Goldberg Machine artists still exist to this day. Learn more about Rube Goldberg machines, watch examples, and see how you can create your own machine in the video below.

The Art of Rube Goldberg

See original footage of Rube Goldberg and his art in this behind-the-scenes video with The New York Times.

Written by Curiosity Staff November 18, 2016

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