Machines were invented to make our lives as human beings much easier. For instance, rather than spend hours washing and drying a basketful of clothes with hands, a washing machine can carry out the same task in less time. This is what makes the Rube Goldberg machine so interesting and ironic. Simply put, A Rube Goldberg machine is any apparatus that is deliberately fashioned to carry out a simple routine chore in the most complicated manner possible. Find out more about this machine here, including its origin and how you can build one yourself.
What is a Rube Goldberg Machine?
A Rube Goldberg machine is any machine that is deliberately constructed in such a way as to carry out a simple chore in an unnecessarily complex manner. The machine usually consists of several different parts or components, these parts are connected to each other in a way that pushing one, sets off all the others in a chain reaction that would at the end perform a simple chore nonetheless in a complex process. It is not intended for any pragmatic use but for fun and to demonstrate the creative nature of the human mind.
Origin of the Rube Goldberg Machine
The Rube Goldberg machine was “invented ” by a famous American cartoonist Rube Goldberg. His full name was Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg. Goldberg was born on the 4th of July 1883 in San Francisco, California. At an early age, he fell in love with art, drawing, and illustrations for which he took drawing lessons while growing up. However, his father wanted him to pursue a more orthodox career.
At his father’s prodding, Goldberg studied engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. After school, he worked as an engineer for some time but found it uninspiring. His true love, which was drawing and illustration, was calling to him. Eventually, he dumped his job and became a cartoonist. Ironically, it was his engineering knowledge that would now become the biggest influence on his cartoons.
His cartoons featured machines that were designed to carry out a simple chore in an unnecessarily complicated manner thus the name Rube Goldberg machines. Rube Goldberg worked for various newspapers in California and New York. At a point, his cartoons became so popular that they were published in newspapers nationwide. He was a founding member of the National Cartoonists Society and drew an estimated 50,000 cartoons in his lifetime.
In the illustration above, Professor Butts is drinking soup. Rather than pick up the napkin to clean his mouth, he constructed a machine that will help him do so. When he lifts the spoon (A), it pulls the string (B), this shakes the ladle (C), which throws the bread (D) into the air. The parrot (E) on seeing the bread, flies after it, as a result, its perch (F) tilts downwards and pours seeds (G) into a bucket. The bucket (H) which is now heavy, drags the string (I) upwards forcing the lighter (J) to ignite. The resulting fire sets off a rocket (K) which causes the attached sickle (L) to cut the string (M). The pendulum is thus freed and it swings back and forth and wipes the professor’s mouth!
Rube Goldberg’s cartoons have outlived him. It has been featured in several movies (chitty chitty bang bang) and cartoons for comic relief. Several universities and institutions have instituted annual Rube Goldberg Machine competitions designed to reward people who can come up with very complicated ways for carrying out simple tasks. They include The Purdue University Indiana, the MIT Museum, and the University of California, Berkeley (Goldberg’s Alma Mater).
The term “Rube Goldberg” has also made it into several dictionaries as an adjective depicting something that is unnecessarily complicated. The Collins Online Dictionary defines Rube Goldberg as “doing something by unnecessarily complicated means”. It was defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as “accomplishing by complex means, what seemingly could be done simply”.
There is also a Rube Goldberg Machine contest organized by the Rube Goldberg Company (incorporated by Goldberg’s grandchildren). Its 30th edition took place this year at the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago.
How can you Build a Rube Goldberg Machine?
Due to its nature, there is no hard and fast rule on how to put together a Rube Goldberg machine. However, here are some useful tips that you can utilize when you want to assemble one.
first and foremost, decide on the simple task you want to perform. It may be watering a plant, putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, chopping carrots, turning off the light, pumping a balloon etc.
Make a sketch of the machine that will carry out the task. While doing so, take into consideration the items you will use. There is no need to break the bank. You can make use of everyday items like books, hammer, planks, balls, strings, ropes, buckets, cups, bowels, cans, cartons, tables, chairs etc.
Assemble the items needed and then get to work putting together your machine. When finished, test the machine and make the needed improvements. Don’t forget to video the process and share with others.
Be careful while using potentially dangerous objects such as knives, scissors or objects powered by electricity. Also be very careful if a fire is going to be a part of the process.
The purpose of a Rube Goldberg machine is entertainment, so make sure that people can understand and follow the process. The process should not be too fast ( that people will not understand) or too slow (that people will now lose interest).