What is a Rube Goldberg Machine?

How does the Rube Goldberg machine work? A Rube Goldberg machine, named after American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, is a chain reaction-type machine.


Image Source:Rube Goldberg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  1. 1 Looking at the Definition

    Rube Goldberg machines are gadgets that use chain reactions for performing elementary tasks. The device carries out basic jobs in a more complicated manner.

  2. 2 Looking at an Example

    Let’s see a Rube Goldberg machine as a functionary for using a napkin to wipe someone's chin. You will be intrigued to know how this machine would do this simple chore.

    The process will start with the soup spoon being picked by a person. This action will pull a string. It will jerk a ladle that will throw a cracker. Then, the cracker will shoot past a bird which will jump for it. This will tilt its perch and as a result, the seeds will drop on a pail. All the pail's extra weight will pull a cord that will open and light an automatic cigarette lighter. It will set off a rocket which will cause a sickle for cutting a string. It will allow a pendulum with the napkin attached for swinging back and forth for wiping the chin. Phew! Aren't you tired already?

  3. 3 Why this Complex Machine even Exist?

    To know why a complicated machine such as this would even come into existence, we need to understand Rube Goldberg closely.

    Born in San Francisco on July 4, 1883, Reuben Lucius “Rube” Goldberg grew up to be a teenager in love withdrawing. While working with one of the sign painters, he received basic art instructions from him. However, he did not go for a career in painting or art. He, instead, chose to join the University of California in Berkeley. He received his mining engineering degree from there.

    What Happened Next?

    He started mapping out water mains and sewer pipes in San Francisco, but the work did not make him happy. He began to draw cartoons for the local papers of the city. After moving to New York, he was hired as a cartoonist by the Evening Mail.

    His engineering background helped him in coming up with funny cartoons. He created complicated machines, which were called novel inventions. These machines performed simple tasks through a series of steps that involved chain reaction. The public absolutely loved Rube's inventions.

  4. 4 He Was Appreciated Left, Right and Centre

    Steadily, Rube's work gained immense popularity throughout the country. Even the world of art went gaga over his crazy creations. Very soon, some of these works were displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Eventually, he climbed his way into Hollywood. "Soup to Nuts" was Rube's movie script which introduced Three Stooges, the famous trio.

  5. 5 He is even a Part of Dictionaries!

    In the year 1931, “Rube Goldberg” was added as an adjective in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The meaning of this ‘adjective’ was “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.” Goldberg brought out glimpses of humour in mundane, everyday life situations. He loved to make his audience laugh through his work. (See What is the Vernal Equinox?)

  6. 6 His Creations are Now Real Machines!

    Over a course of time, Goldberg’s inventions hopped out of the pages and transformed into real machines that actually worked! These were built solely to watch science in action and of course, for the pleasure of engineering. His works have been an inspiration for millions across the globe. Even today, innovative people come out with their own complicated machines for carrying out simple and basic tasks. Even contests are held for the same!


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