A century ago, Rube Goldberg hit on a process that captivated America’s attention. His legacy continues today; there were several Bay Area Maker Faire exhibits that featured Goldberg-esque contraptions. There’s a strange, enduring attraction to his devices, one that makes people want to take them off the pages — he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist more than an inventor — and build them in real life.
“Actually, Rube never built these contraptions,” says Jennifer George, Goldberg’s granddaughter. But now, via rubegoldberg.com, she awards prizes to school groups who do build Goldberg Devices, and George announced a partnership with Mad Science during Maker Faire. Next year’s competition: Open an umbrella.
Rube Goldberg has really become an adjective, George says, based on his comics about a Professor Butts, who may have been drawn from his experience with a professor at the University of California, where he studied. Goldberg credited an engineering lesson, on how one might build a tool to weigh the world, as inspiring his absurdist machines. “The problem solvers of tomorrow are the Rube Goldberg machine builders of today,” she says.
George’s book, The Art of Rube Goldberg, is a compendium of his cartoons, along with biographical information and photos. While compiling it, George noticed a preponderance of wearables — a self-tipping hat, a self-wiping napkin — but also some that have become reality in the wearables world, like a movie-camera harness.
“The internet kind of changed everything in the world of Rube Goldberg,” says George. “He became searchable, hashtagable, viral. And I realized that I wasn’t just putting a book together, I was watching a brand come together before my eyes.”