8 Excellent Rube Goldberg Cartoons

Image credit: 
Abrams ComicArts

Everyone from OK Go to MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage to Pee-Wee Herman has paid homage to Rube Goldberg, the cartoonist and inventor best known for his illustrations of complex machines designed to perform a simple task. You might not be able to build a Rube Goldberg machine, but you can have all of them in your home via a new book, The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) GeniusWe asked Goldberg's granddaughter and author of the book, Jennifer George, to pick out some of her favorite machines and inventions—and tell us about them. 

1. "A Simple Idea for an Automatic Device for Emptying Ash Trays"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This is one of my grandfather's classic invention cartoons from the Collier's era, circa 1929 - 1931. The magazine ran a bi-weekly Professor Butts invention cartoon and this image is a double-page spread in the front of our book. You'll see it contains many of the classic elements of a Rube machine—parrots, a rocket, a watering can—all images repeated in invention cartoons, from the beginning of his career to the end."

2. "The Portable-Movie-Talkie Camera"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"A critical element of our iPhones, this prescient little device is what I call a 'wearable' invention, many of which reference ideas and concepts that are integrated into our daily lives today."

3. "Revolveometer (A Way to Look At Abstract Art)"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"Really gives you an indication of how baffled Rube was by abstract art, although I would love to get into one of these at MoMA."

4. Prof Butts Self-Operating Napkin


Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This classic invention (and a 'wearable' to-boot) seems taken right out of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. In 1995 this image was selected to become an official Rube Goldberg U.S. Postage stamp and was colorized for the occasion."

5. "A Simple Device For Taking Your Own Picture"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This machine was actually created for the exhibit on my grandfather at the Smithsonian Museum in 1970. There's a wonderful picture in the book of Rube sitting in this machine, having his picture taken. Two weeks after the photograph was taken Rube passed away at home in New York City."

6. "The Special Movie Theater Getter-Upper"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"A simple device designed to get people up and out of their chairs so you can make your way to your seat. These simple gadgets, not classic inventions, figure into Rube's work often through the decades."

7. "Simple Way to Get Fresh Orange Juice Upon Awakening"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This is the cover of our book, a marvelous movable creation of paper-engineering, executed by Andy Baron—a legend in the pop-up book genre. This invention is also the first level of our mobile game app called Rube Works and is now available on iOS. It puts all the elements of the invention in a toolbox below, and once you get them in the proper place, the machine works! It is quickly becoming a favorite of educators and puzzle-lovers everywhere."

8. "A Simple Way to Fish an Olive Out of One of Those Long-necked Bottles"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This is a favorite invention cartoon and remains part of the family archive. You'll notice the large bottle of olives says "White Rose" on its label—White Rose was my grandmother's family business, a specialty food and tea company started by  her father and that remains in business to this day."

All images courtesy of The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius. Selected and with commentary by Jennifer George; introduction by Adam Gopnik. Published by Abrams ComicArts.

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December 2, 2013 - 5:00pm
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