Before “Rube Goldberg” became an adjective modifying any machine or other human endeavor more complicated than necessary, it was the name of a cartoonist whose work graced the funny papers, the editorial page, magazine covers, advertisements, and countless other formats for more than 50 years. If you lived in the United States in the first half of the last century, you couldn’t escape his work, and not many people wanted to. Curiously, for a man so gifted in so many venues (he was also a newspaper columnist, a songwriter, and, briefly, a vaudeville star), Goldberg remains famous for one thing: his single-panel drawings of absurdly complex contraptions that in fact accomplish a simple task. Or maybe not so curiously, because these Dada chain reactions have lost none of their genius—or their humor—with time. Anyone who feels as though he or she is drowning daily in technocratic complexity can still laugh at a Goldberg drawing.
This slide show is taken from The Art of Rube Goldberg (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius, Selected by Jennifer George, Introduction by Adam Gopnik. Published by Abrams ComicArts.