"Rube Goldberg invention"

Ruben Goldberg is one of the treasures of the American 20th Century.  Goldberg was a cartoonist who developed a specialty that has become famous:  Professor Butts' repertoire of brilliant ideas for machines that are ridiculously overcomplicated ways of accomplishing simple tasks.

Since the material is copyrighted, I can't show one directly on this page.  But you can begin by checking out Professor Butts' design for a Self-Operating Napkin.

Over the years, Goldberg turned out a hilarious series of cartoons depicting Professor Butts' inspirations.  (He was eventually awarded a Pulitzer Prize.  And he was elected the first president of the National Cartoonists Society.)  To posterity, though, these have become known not as "Professor Butts inventions" but as "Rube Goldberg inventions," and the term "Rube Goldberg invention" has come to denote any piece of engineering that resorts to maximal measures to obtain minimal results.  (Some of them -- like Professor Butts' whacky device for opening a garage door -- may even have suggested the idea that some device be invented to accomplish that end.)  And there have sprouted up a host of Rube Goldberg contests to pique the imaginations of students at all levels -- from secondary to engineering schools.  (An irony is that may commentators -- as on the ANL site pointed to above -- have come to refer to the mildly mad inventor in Goldberg's cartoons as "Rube Goldberg," apparently forgetting that Goldberg's favorite character was Professor Butts.)

Visit the Official Rube Goldberg Website and click on the link there that takes you to a gallery of wonderful examples.  The site also offers a biography and links to other sites with a wealth of Goldberg masterpieces.

Another source of useful links is at the site of the Argonne National Laboratories RG Contest site.

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      Contents copyright 1999 by Lyman A. Baker

Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.

      This page last updated 08 April 1999.