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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rube Goldberg

The Rube Goldberg means of using a napkin...or mailing a letter.
Self-portrait, Rube Goldberg
You may never have actually seen any of his cartoons, but when you hear the name, Rube Goldberg, you have no trouble bringing to mind a mental image of his work. Simply put, that moniker conveys the psychological mindset involving the accomplishment of relatively modest daily tasks through mechanical activities with a minimum of physical exertion utilizing a maximum degree of ingeniously complex convolution to effect a presumably desirable result thereby creating an eventual humorous reaction on the part of the individual observing the graphic depiction and accompanying detailed explanation. That's my Rube Goldberg definition of a Rube Goldberg comic strip from the 1920 until his death in 1970 at the age of eighty-seven. Using my Rube Goldberg automatic Date-of-Birth Calculator...wait a's almost done...ahh, that means he was born in 1883.

A 1921 vintage "Mike and Ike (they look alike)" comic book.
A 1908 Goldberg baseball cartoon
from the San Francisco days.
Rube Goldberg didn't start out drawing contrivances to do easy thing the hard way. When he started taking drawing lessons at the age of eleven, he wanted to become a sports cartoonist. He ended up with a mining engineering degree, graduating from UCLA Berkley in 1904 whereupon he went to work for the San Francisco Water and Sewer Department. That lasted only six months before he landed his dream job at the San Francisco Chronicle. He took a pay cut from $100 to $32 per month, and for that he also had to sweep the floor and file photos in the "morgue." A year later, he switched to The Chronicle's competitor, the San Francisco Bulletin (hopefully with a pay raise).. By 1907 he was off to New York to draw his cartoons, and by 1915 was being syndicated nationwide. He was a funny man who could draw well. That, combined with a deeply ingrained Jewish work ethic and an inventive mind, bolstered by an engineering degree, was a strange, but winning combination. At one time he was drawing five different strips--Mike and Ike (They Look Alike) (top), Boob McNutt, Foolish Questions, Lala Palooza and The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Women's Club. They probably hadn't invented the term, "workaholic" yet but when they did, they might aptly put Goldberg's picture next to the word in the dictionary.
Even today, I've not seen anything that would work better.
A typical Rube Goldberg "invention." The midget sailor might be a problem.
Also the inventor of modern-
day medical devices (1959).
Actually, Rube Goldberg is in the dictionary. Beginning in 1931, Merriam Webster labeled it an adjective defined as: "accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply." Goldberg invented Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, who invented...things...accompanied by labeled schematics, often so mind-boggling complex, not to mention, impractical, as to challenge the nerds of the world today to actually try building them. Goldberg's "Napkin Utilizer" (top) have also been adapted for postal purposes. I'm especially fond of his "handy device to stop {a} rug from slipping" (above). Goldberg's Professor Butts didn't invent the atom bomb, but he likely was the first person to coin the phrase "chain reaction."

Democratic presidential contenders
Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver
were seen as the beneficiaries of
this Goldberg contraption.
As any good cartoonist will tell you, the real money to be made is not in syndication but in publication. Goldberg wrote and illustrated his first of more than a dozen books, between 1915 and 1920 at a time when he was earning a hundred-thousand dollars a year. In addition to several comic strips Goldberg was also writing songs, movie scripts, and stage plays. Later, his portfolio broadened to include political cartoons, television, and board games. Even today, books with his name on them, containing his timeless drawings, are still being published. Given his penchant for complex contrivances and political cartoons, one can only imagine what Rube Goldberg might have done with today's Affordable Care Act--maybe attach his own name to it, "Goldberg Care?"

Goldberg's inventive talents were for sale to the highest this case, Pepsi-Cola.


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