The Incomparable Rube Goldberg


The name Rube Goldberg is synonymous with machines that perform the simplest of everyday tasks in a complex and indirect manner—in fact, it is listed in the dictionary as an adjective with such a definition. But Rube Goldberg wasn't just an inventor; he was a cartoonist and sculptor, among other things. At the request of the boss himself, Jason English, today's post features Reuben Garret Lucius Goldberg (1883-1970). In the spirit of Goldberg, whose cartoons depicted many steps for a simple process, I will use two Saturday posts to present the life and works of this clever man.

1. A master of sarcasm and wit, Goldberg drew a single-panel cartoon called "Foolish Questions" for more than 25 years. The first "Foolish Questions" cartoon depicted a man who had fallen off the Flatiron Building. When asked if he were hurt, he replied, "No, I jump off this building every day to limber up for business." The feature was so successful it spawned books, a phonograph recording, and a game.

2. Considered the "dean of American cartoonists," Goldberg was highly successful in his field. He was one of the original founders of the Famous Artists Cartoon School and a founding member of the National Cartoonists Society. He served as the NCS's first president and was awarded their Gold T-Square Award, their Gold Key Award, and their Reuben Award (named after Goldberg himself). His wife received an honorary Reuben Award for being the "Mother" of the NCS. In 1948, Goldberg won the Pulitzer Prize for his July 22, 1947, political cartoon for the New York Sun.

3. Goldberg had two sons, Thomas and George, with his wife Irma. Both boys changed their surname to "George," though two stories exist to explain the change. The more common tale is that Goldberg received so much hate mail for his political cartoons during World War II that he wanted his sons disassociated from the Goldberg name as protection for them. However, George W. George himself explains that the boys' surname was changed merely to differentiate themselves from their father. "We had no identity of our own," George has said, and they were always just being introduced as sons of the famous cartoonist. Their father apparently said, "If you're going to have careers of your own, you might as well have a different name."

Be sure to check back next Saturday for more Rube Goldberg fun!

A larger version of the Goldberg cartoon shown above is available here. Fans should check out the Rube Goldberg official site; Goldberg's autobiography; and this ASIFA-Hollywood post featuring many Goldberg cartoons. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at artist suggestions, with details of current exhibitions, or for sources or further reading.