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Illustration: Rube Goldberg
From 1914 to 1964, cartoonist Rube Goldberg ran a series called The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. This one involves postage stamps. (1929, ink on paper)

Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist known for his fanciful designs for machines, many of which inspired admirers to try to build a “Rube Goldberg” chain reaction. I myself at age 12 partnered with Joanna Pousette-Dart to make a contraption we called an “egg-breaking machine.” It was loads of fun, but my 7th grade science teacher, though genuinely amused by my demonstration, wasn’t thrilled that I forgot the egg in the classroom for days.

Recently Nadja Sayej reported at The Guardian about a new Rube Goldberg show in Queens, New York. You can catch it before February 9, 2020.

“There’s a cartoon hanging in the Queens Museum in New York – a drawing of a man with a shovel, digging through piles of paper.

“The papers symbolize government corruption, but they wind up in the dump. The caption explains: ‘Senate investigating committee digs up huge mass of evidence which passes before startled eyes of indignant but apathetic public, and then slides into obscurity, making room for next investigation.’ …

“The cartoon is from the 1940s, by the New York cartoonist Rube Goldberg. … The pioneering 20th-century artist created more than 50,000 cartoons in a career that spanned seven decades. This is the first retrospective in 49 years to look at Goldberg’s work. It also highlights his overlooked career as a Pulitzer prize-winning political satirist. …

“Goldberg wasn’t primarily a satirist but made a significant impact with his political cartoons. He received a Pulitzer prize in 1948 for a drawing called Peace Today, showing an atomic bomb teetering towards the brink of destruction.

“Goldberg … got a job at the Evening Mail in 1908 with a cartoon series called Foolish Questions. It was based on the premise: ‘Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.’

“In one cartoon, a woman asks her husband, who just came in from the rain: ‘Why, dearie, did you get wet?’ He answers: ‘Of course not – the rain is dry today.’ The series was so popular, readers started mailing in their own foolish questions for Goldberg to answer. …

“From 1914 to 1964, he ran a series called The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. Before becoming a cartoonist, Goldberg studied engineering, and here put his knowledge to work. He turned seemingly useless tasks into complicated chain reaction invention machines (in one, a car gets a windshield wiper from a dog’s wagging tail; in another, there’s a 20-step way to brush your teeth).

“It didn’t stop on paper, either. Goldberg’s invention machines made it to Hollywood. He created a feeding machine that allowed Charlie Chaplin to sip on soup without raising his arms in the 1936 film Modern Times.

“Much later, his breakfast machines were featured in blockbuster films, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where a toy train pushes plates along a kitchen, while in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, a statue of Abraham Lincoln flips pancakes (which end up stuck to the ceiling).”

More here.

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