Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Rube Goldberg!

Today, July 4th, is the 126th birthday of sculptor, author, engineer and cartoonist Rube Goldberg. Goldberg, who received a 1948 Pulitzer Prize for his political cartoons, is best known for his series of drawings depicting convoluted machines. In each cartoon, the hapless Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts comes up with some elaborate contraption – an unwieldy set of arms, wheels, gears, handles, cups, and rods, put in motion by balls, steam kettles, boots, bathtubs, paddles, and live animals – to make a simple task extraordinarily complicated.

For example, in this cartoon the "Self-Operating Napkin" is activated when a soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and 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 skyrocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin. After-dinner entertainment can be supplied with the simple substitution of a harmonica for the napkin.

Goldberg retired from cartooning to become a professional sculptor at 80 years old, and died at the age of 90 in 1973.

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