Rube Goldberg Mashup

July 4th isn’t just Independence Day—it’s the anniversary of Rube Goldberg’s birthday.

Mousetrap, by Rube Goldberg. All Rights Reserved. RUBE GOLDBERG ® is a registered trademark of Rube Goldberg Inc. All materials used with permission.
Mousetrap, by Rube Goldberg. All Rights Reserved. RUBE GOLDBERG ® is a registered trademark of Rube Goldberg Inc. All materials used with permission.

Today we commemorate the birth of a nation. But July 4th marks another important birthday anniversary: Rube Goldberg’s. Yup, the man whose name is synonymous with convoluted inventions was born 130 years ago, in San Francisco.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Goldberg was an engineer before he became a professional cartoonist. According to RubeGoldberg.com, that earlier post informed his most acclaimed work depicting convoluted contraptions that perform simple tasks. Such a device might consist of “an elaborate set of arms, wheels, gears, handles, cups and rods, put in motion by balls, canary cages, pails, boots, bathtubs, paddles, and live animals”—all working together to, say, dump sand from a shoe or uncork a bottle.  (Click here for more examples.)

While Goldberg never realized any of his inventions, they certainly inspired a cadre of builders. Below are some examples that capture the Goldberg spirit. Are there any Rubesque devices you’d like to create? Share your ideas in the comments section!

1) In 2012, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team broke the Guinness World Record for this Rube Goldberg machine—the largest ever, with 300 total steps taken to pop a balloon:

2) Apparently, this kid wants to be a theoretical physicist. Note his unconventional use of a Steinbeck novel:

3) A breakfast-making device in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure:

4) OK Go fans know this paint splatterer all too well:

5) And my favorite, if only for nostalgia’s sake—Doc Brown’s dog feeder from Back to the Future:

Meet the Writer

About Julie Leibach

Julie Leibach is Science Friday’s managing editor of online content. She is a huge fan of sleep and chocolate.