Rube Goldberg, Creator of The Inventions and Much More

13 July 2001

   Rube Goldberg was a man of abundant creative talents. He cartooned almost all of his life. He drew editorial cartoons and many comic strips, including the daily "Boob McNutt," which ran for almost twenty years (1915-1934). He is best known for The Inventions, a cartoon series where complicated inventions were used to complete the simplest task. The comic invention could include sprockets, wheels and belts, ladders, slides, ropes and small people or animals to grab or push. All of this just to get a bit of supper from the buffet or remove a bottle cap.Rgoldberg

    Reuben Lucius Goldberg was born on July 4th, 1883 in San Francisco, California,. He was the second of three sons and one daughter of parents Hannah and Max Goldberg. His mother died when he was a young teenager, and his father never remarried. The Goldbergs were an upper-middle class family, with father Max working in real estate, banking and politics.

    Rube began art lessons every Friday night, at age eleven. He said attending the lessons was "heaven" and that he never missed a class. He knew that he wanted to be a full-time artist from the start.

    When Reuben completed high school, his father urged him to study something
that would provide a good living. Max felt art was not financially stable. He reminded his son that great artists, like DaVinci, were trained as engineers first. That sounded logical to Rube, and he entered university. Rube graduated from The School of Mining Engineering at the University of California in 1904. He enjoyed his engineering studies but did not give up art. He continued to draw cartoons, submitting them to The Pelican, a student humour magazine.

    His first job was with the San Francisco City Chief Engineer's Office, mapping and drawing water and sewer pipe plans. He received a wage of $100 a month, a high wage for a new grad. He withstood the boredom for three months, then told his father he had to try cartooning. He hired on as art assistant with the San Francisco Chronicle for $8 a week.

    Rube's editor continually rejected his work until he hit a winner with sports cartoons. His work was very popular on the west coast, earning him a raise to $10 a week. After nine months, he moved to the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin for a term. In 1906, he decided to try New York City.

    Though famous in California, Goldberg was an unknown in New York. He found that he had to build his career from scratch, taking a job as junior sports artist for the New York Evening Mail.

    In 1909, Rube started the cartoon series, Foolish Questions. He would ask readers for "foolish questions" that he could draw into comics and hundreds of letters arrived. He became an established cartoonist by 1911, drawing his regular sports cartoon, Foolish Questions and other cartoons. (Foolish Questions was made into a book and a game.) Max Goldberg acted as Reuben's agent for contract negotiations. He ensured that Reuben's cartoons and characters would remain his property and that his work was only licensed for publication.

    Using his engineering background, Rube began his soon-to-be-famous series, The Inventions, in 1914. It was at the beginning of the American Age of Invention and it must have been a great time to be a cartoonist; there were continual new inventions to poke fun at. The car, the trains, machines of all sorts were invented in the early 1900s. Rube's comic panels made the easiest task into a long and difficult manoeuver and the public loved them.

    Rube appeared onstage with other cartoonists during the Vaudeville era, drawing cartoons from audience suggestions. At the same time, about 1915, he took on the job of doing a series of animated cartoon shorts to appear with the silent movies. Thousands of pictures were required for only a few short minutes of cartoon, which Rube alone drew. It was too much along with all of his other work, and he gave up the series. He was also now a nationally-syndicated cartoonist, and his work appeared world-wide. Goldberg was earning the huge sum of $100,000 per year from his drawings and books.

    In 1916, Rube met and married Irma Seeman during his very busy, creative time. They had two sons, Tom and George. (One son grew up to be a painter, the other son a writer and producer in Hollywood.)

    Rube continued to draw his regular comics along with The Inventions. He drew sixty different cartoon series in his lifetime. Do names like Father Was Right, Mike and Ike, They All Looked Good When They're Far Away, Sapograms or I'm the Guy sound familiar? They are just a small portion of his cartoons. He also drew single cartoons about sports, politics and for cover drawings.

    By 1938, the newspaper business was changing. To express his dislike for the changes, Reuben gave up cartooning. He did not like the shuffling of cartoons from important sections of the newspaper to small, limited spaces. He took up writing articles and stories for a few years, and his work was very popular. He returned to his passion when he couldn't resist an offer to do editorial cartooning for the New York Sun. Rube won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartoons in 1948.

    A few years later, Goldberg moved to the New York Journal. He drew his last editorial cartoon in 1964. At eighty years old, he was ready for a change.

    Rube made the leap from cartooning to sculpture with ease. He felt it was a natural progression from drawing to three- dimensional art. He held his first sculpture showing a year later. He produced about 300 works over the next several years. All creations were sold to collectors, galleries and museums.

    Reuben Goldberg died on December 07, 1970. His work continues on in the form of annual contests held by schools and universities, The Rube Goldberg Machine Contests. Students are given a challenge that they must meet in the most complicated manner they can think up.

    Rube Goldberg milestones
  • Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartoon 1948
  • Banshee's Silver Lady Award 1959
  • A US Postage Stamp honouring his Inventions Series
  • A Retrospective held by the National Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington entitled "Do It the Hard Way."
  • Co-founder of Famous Artists School
  • Honorary President of the National Cartoonists Society
  • He designed the NSC top award and it was named the "Reuben." It was awarded to him in 1967.
  • President of the Artists and Writers Club
  • Member of the Society of Illustrators
  • Musicals, Radio and Television Broadcasts.

    Rube's whole life was filled with art, science and creating. He said he did "not count the years.
Tomorrow is just another day to create something I hope will be worthwhile." He certainly accomplished that goal.

    The name Rube Goldberg is mentioned in the media yet today when referring to complicated or intricate systems or programs. The US tax system was called the "Rube Goldberg tax system" by the Congressional Record and Time Magazine noted about an airplane that "Federal officials examined the aircraft and decided it owed more to Rube Goldberg than Orville Wright." Rube probably loved the convoluted process we have to use just to program the VCR.

Rube Goldberg Machine Contests and information:

Much information for Rube Goldberg's biography was found in a book filled with examples of his many cartoon series. Have a look atRube Goldberg Inventions by Maynard Frank Wolfe, published by Simon and Schuster, 2000.

More information about Rube Goldberg can be found at:

© Susanna McLeod 2001