-Rube Goldberg (1883-1970)
Even before he reached the age of 50, Rube Goldberg saw his name in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as an adjective meaning “accomplishing something simple through complex means. “ Goldberg saw the humor in the Machine Age of the early 1900s and spent 55 years drawing elaborate mechanisms that symbolized what he called “man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results." Each drawing would take about 30 hours to complete.
Reuben Lucius Goldberg was the son of a San Francisco police and fire commissioner, who steered into obtaining and engineering degree in college before going to work in 1904, designing sewer pipes for the San Francisco Sewer Department. He only lasted a few months at the job before leaving to become a sportswriter and cartoonist. Early in his cartooning career he created the characters Mike & Ike (“They look alike.”) who live on these days as a brand of candy.
I was surprised to learn that Rube Goldberg won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning as a result of his New York Sun cartoon warning about the perils of the Atomic Age:
But he is best known for his elaborate drawings that continue to spawn of host of complicated machines that bear his name. “The Self-Operating Napkin” was a classic Rube Goldberg cartoon in that vein:
As you raise spoon of soup (A) to your mouth it pulls string (B), thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off sky-rocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth thereby wiping off your chin. After the meal, substitute a harmonica for the napkin and you'll be able to entertain the guests with a little music.