High schools and colleges throughout the country pay tribute to Rube Goldberg’s legacy every year though The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. According to the contest website “The Rube Goldberg Machine Contests bring Goldberg's cartoons to life as a way of helping students transcend traditional ways of looking at problems, taking them into the intuitive chaotic realm of imagination. The resulting inventions are collections of bits and pieces, parts of now useless machines, cobbled together to achieve an innovative imaginative, yet somehow logical contraption to meet the annual contest challenge.”
Once you see some of these innovative solutions to simple tasks, you will instantly become a Rube Goldberg fan. Mr. Goldberg was raised in California and majored in Mining Engineering in college. After a brief stint as a city engineer, he pursued his true love, drawing cartoons; first as a sport’s cartoonist in San Francisco then as a multi-strip cartoonist in New York. Rube Goldberg’s work appeared in New York Journal, American|New York Evening Journal and the New York Evening Mail. His work became syndicated in 1915.
While, Mr. Goldberg created many well loved cartoon characters, his most popular and most enduring is Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. The Professor is well-known for creating complex comical creations. In fact, Rube Goldberg holds the distinction of being the only proper name used as an adjective in the English language. The adjective is used to describe a complex solution to an easy or common place task. Examples of the past challenges include: dispensing hand sanitizer, watering a plant, replacing a light bulb, assembling a hamburger, juicing an orange, shredding 5 sheets of paper one-by-one, casting a ballot, peeling an apple, and putting a stamp on an envelope. Competitions are held on a high-school and college level, both nationally and internationally.
The most recent U.S. machine contest, which required inflating and popping a balloon, was won by St. Olaf College, a private liberal arts school in Northfield, Minn. This short video shows the inventiveness of this group of young engineers.
The “official” Rube Goldberg Machine Contest has spurred many other contests and marketing stunts of similar design. Rock groups and well-known brands use the appeal of Rube Goldberg to create a following of their own. Coca-Cola has sponsored such machines via their “Share a Coke” promotion. One of my favorite Goldberg-esque marketing stunts comes from France and an advertisement developed to promote the park assist system on its C-Max car.
K’NEX Construction Toys are often featured in elaborate Goldberg Machines. This building toy systems lends itself well to kinetic designs that can supply the action and response needed in these whimsical design plans. In the spirit of the impending holiday season, I thought this example of K’NEX meets Rube Goldberg was very fitting. It features the work of high-school drafting students and their handiwork.
The beauty of these designs lies not only in their complex nature but in the ingenuity and imagination of the designers. These skills translate very well into today’s manufacturing environment. Our technology driven workplaces cultivate and encourage these critical thinking skills to improve efficiencies by streamlining processes and maximizing the utilization of complex systems and machines. So, we end this post with one final video. Watch it to see if you or someone you know may have the “knack” for engineering.
Are you a fan of The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. If so stay tuned for next year’s challenge, hammering a nail. It should spawn some great creative solutions to a simple task. And, for more information about Rube Goldberg and the contests held in his honor you can visit these websites: