What Is a Rube Goldberg Machine?

ATA Karate Denver is running a contest to build the ultimate Rube Goldberg Machine. And if you win, you’ll get a really cool black uniform!! To help you out, here is some background on Rube Goldberg Machines and how they got so popular.

The illustrator, Rube Goldberg, said his cartoons of the Rube Goldberg Machine were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.”

A Rube Goldberg machine relies on a series of chain reactions that perform complicated feats to perform a simple task.

Chances are good that you’ve seen a Rube Goldberg machine in action when you were a kid. If you ever played the board game Mousetrap, you know exactly how these chain reactions work to win the game. Did you ever construct dominoes side-by-side and then knock them over? That’s another version of a Rube Goldberg machine.

Rube Goldberg Machine Cartoon

Wikimedia CommonsOne of Rube Goldberg’s cartoons. Imagine bathing like this.

Rube Goldberg was an actual person. He was born Reuben Lucius Goldberg in San Francisco on July 4, 1883. He loved art as a teenager, but the young man attended the University of California at Berkeley (at his father’s urging) where he earned a degree in mining engineering.

Working in mines takes a lot of engineering prowess. His first post-graduate job was to map out sewer and water lines in San Francisco. Think of that video you just watched about Riga’s tree lighting. There seemed to be a lot of pipes involved in that design.

Goldberg gave up on mining and starting drawing cartoons for local papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle. His artistic eye landed him a job with the Evening Mail in New York.

Goldberg’s wit, intelligence, and art skills led him to a full-time career. His specialty was drawing new inventions that solved simple problems in complicated ways. He drew convoluted chain reactions that performed seemingly easy tasks.

The public loved Goldberg’s work. His drawings expanded to hundreds of papers across the United States in syndication. The artist even penned a movie in 1931 called Soup to Nuts. That film was the first appearance of the iconic trio known as Three Stooges.

Some of his illustrations even ended up in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Before he died in 1970, Goldberg drew more than 50,000 cartoons over his lifetime.

Lifesize Mousetrap Rube Goldberg Machine
Try playing this life size game of Mousetrap!

As Goldberg’s cartoons became more popular, people took designs off the page and into reality. Although a genuine Rube Goldberg machine has no practical use, they do teach kids and engineering students valuable lessons on how to build devices to get work done.

Drawing a Rube Goldberg machine is one thing, but building your own is another matter entirely.

YouTube user Kaplamino said it took him three months and more than 500 trials and errors before he perfected his creation. The blue marble chain reaction is made of ordinary, everyday items such as scissors, fidget spinners, small wood planks and a plastic fork. Follow the blue marble as it goes from one end of the table to the other, only to end up very near where it started.

Goldberg wanted to honor people with inventive minds every time he drew a silly cartoon. The illustrator said his work was a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.”

In today’s modern age Goldberg’s quote is truer than ever.

2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the official Rube Goldberg machine contest. The theme for 2019 is to put money in a piggy bank.

The popularity of these crazy contraptions goes to an entirely different level if you don’t want to enter a contest yourself. Thanks to the internet and YouTube, you can see as many mind-bending and crazy Rube Goldberg machines as you can handle.

Jolene Rheault

Jolene works as a marketing professional but full-time as a mom. She lives in Highlands Ranch, CO with her 7-year-old son, husband, 2 cats, and a bearded dragon named Jerry.

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